White House Press Corps Rebels Over Photo Access

Press Secretary Jay Carney scrambles to answer questions over administration access for photographers

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced open revolt from the White House press corps Thursday over the Obama administration’s rules governing photographic coverage of the President.

Coming on the heels of a letter from the White House Correspondents Association and an op-ed from the Associated Press Director of Photography protesting restrictive policies, Carney said the White House is “working” on expanding access to Obama.

“Let me tell you at the start here that from the president on down, everyone here believes strongly in the absolute necessity of a free and independent press to cover the presidency, to cover the government, to cover Washington,” Carney said in response to reporters who peppered him with questions about why photographers have been denied access to what Obama bills as the “most transparent administration” ever.

MORE: Why Photographers Need More Access In The White House

Santiago Lyon, a longtime photojournalist and director of photography at the Associated Press, wrote in the New York Times that photographers have only been given the opportunity to photograph the president alone in the Oval Office twice. Lyon’s criticism went further, calling the images distributed by the White House on social media “propaganda,” issued “in hypocritical defiance of the principles of openness and transparency he campaigned on.” Carney questioned the veracity of Lyon’s column, but said the White House is holding conversations with photographers to improve access. He continued with a lengthy statement in praise of photographers from his days as a former correspondent for TIME.

Carney framed the issue in terms of technology and distribution. “There are new technological developments, the Internet, that make the way that theses images are disseminated different from how it was done in the past,” he said. “And they used to develop film in a basement here and hand it out in the briefing room.”

Reporters and photographers contend that the issue isn’t distribution or competition — it’s public vs. administration access to the most important person on the planet. Take this week’s 18-hour flights to and from South Africa for a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. White House photographer Pete Souza published a slideshow of candid photographs of Obama, the First Lady, former President George W. Bush, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the trip. At the back of the plane, a 15-person press pool, including still photographers and videographers, were denied access to the president.

“For a lot of those hours, the president, former president, first lady and the former first lady were asleep,” Carney said by way of defense, as reporters snickered.

“What I can also assure you is that we will not create a day that has never existed, at least in modern times, when everyone in the White House press corps is satisfied with the amount of access they get to the president,” Carney said. “That would be, I think, impossible to expect.”

One reporter shouted at Carney, “That doesn’t mean we can’t be provided more.”