Friday's White House "Photo of the Day" seems fairly innocuous at first glance. President Obama, in the Oval Office, is surrounded by eight photojournalists as he signs a bill into law.
But that particular photo comes courtesy of the White House just one day after 38 news organizations and journalistic institutions, en masse, penned a letter of protest to Press Secretary Jay Carney, asking that the Obama administration stop simply sending out their own photos and allow more access to photographers and videographers.
Some journalists interpreted Friday's photo as the White House attempting to sweep the issue under the rug, while others figured it a subliminal "screw you."
"I think given the fact that this picture of them taking pictures was now pushed out, I almost wonder if this wasn't just a set up?" said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, who worked on a draft of the letter. "See, we give everybody access, what's the problem?" he said the White House was trying to say.
Julie Mason, SiriusXM POTUS press pool host and former White House Correspondents' Association board member, saw Friday's photo and suggested it was an equivalent to a middle finger, a snub and an eye roll. "All of that, plus a drop of anxiety," Mason wrote in an email. "Behold how sensitive the White House is to claims they shut the press out."
BagNewsNotes, a website that analyzes images, was the first to notice Friday's Oval Office picture and called the White House "incredibly petty" for putting it out, arguing that photojournalists should have been offered the opportunity to capture President Obama doing something personal, instead of another staged photo-op.
Thursday's letter was signed by all the major broadcast and cable news networks, newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, and professional organizations likes the NPPA, the Society for Professional Journalists and the National Press Club. The letter called attention to the fact that journalists are being routinely denied the chance to photograph or videotape the president while Obama is performing official duties. "As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist's camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government."
Instead, the Obama White House has been giving reporters "read-outs" of White House events, which often includes photographs taken by the official White House photographer, Pete Souza. "You are, in effect, replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases," the letter argued.
Photographers from news organizations, meanwhile, are banned. "The apparent reason for closing certain events to photographers is that these events have been deemed 'private,'" the letter explained. "That rationale, however, is undermined when the White House contemporaneously releases its own photograph of a so-called private event through social media."
That use of "new technology," is something that should be applauded, argued Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest when CBS' Major Garrett and Fox News Channel's Ed Henry brought up the issue during Thursday's White House press briefing. "What we've done is we've capitalized on new technology that exists -- Flickr, Instagram, digital photos that can be easily emailed -- to give people pictures of what's happening in those circumstance," Earnest said, noting instances in which the president was making decisions in, say, the Situation Room. "That's an outlier, Josh," Henry called out. The letter, too, explained that journalists weren't asking to be privy to certain national security situations.
Earnest also said it's natural for journalists to be thirsting for more access. "If you weren't, you wouldn't be doing your job," Earnest said. "So the fact that there is a little bit of a disagreement between the press corps and the White House Press Office about how much access the press corps should have to the President is built into the system."
Earnest did not respond to a request for comment on Friday's Photo of the Day. But Garrett, in an email to Whispers, pondered why such a thing would be so unique that the White House would put it out. "There is nothing, or there should be nothing special or noteworthy, about a White House photographer capturing an image of photojournalists doing their job," Garrett said.