AFP, AP and Reuters said no. Getty Images just went for it. As a new President enters the White House, a new photo policy seem to emerge. After the really bad images of him backstage watching the results of election night posted on Flickr, Obama, or his administration, has broken tradition by making the first images of him in the Oval Office a handout.

obama white house

The major wire services boycotted these images saying that it has always been a tradition to let their own photographers shoot these images. Offering the same set of images taken by a White House photographer ( Peter Souza ?) is not acceptable.

While the White House, and maybe Obama himself sees this as more democratic, the journalistic world sees it as an attempt to manipulate and send out well managed propaganda images. If the Bush administration had done the same, the media would have been up in arms showing how the Republicans were trying to control the media and the message. Because Obama did it probably with the intent of being more democratic, it seems to pass.

Because these are White House images, it seems that more distribution channels ( read, photo agencies) had access to them then if had been a pool wire service photographer. In that, it is probably a good thing. However, since the image was taken by a staff photographer of the White House whose mission is to ehnace the message, there was no objectivity in the images. None of these images were taken to shown his first day at work in his new oval shaped office, but rather to make him look good.

Journalism is taken very seriously in the United States of America, and like the separation of Church and state, there is a clear separation of State and Media. One cannot control the other, regardless of the intent. Controlling what images come out of the White House is not a step forward in democracy. What would be more of a democracy move would be to let other photographic news outlet access to photograph the president’s work.

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6 Thoughts on “Democracy and Photojournalism

  1. Hmmm, I guess if I had more faith in “journalism” in this country I might join you in your outrage. From my perspective (as a photojournalist and aware citizen) I haven’t noticed much real journalism for several years. The most important stories get panned (because they don’t serve the corporate overlords) and the silly bullshit gets hours and hours and columns and columns of space. If there was strong, believable, serious, unbiased journalism in this country, Bush would have been impeached years ago, we would be well on our way to solving global warming and people would be aware of the worldwide corporate takeover of clean, safe water. Those are real stories and the press fails this country at every turn because the truth does not serve the large corporations that OWN the press.

  2. beetham on January 23, 2009 at 7:01 pm said:

    Come on, It’s a friggin’ photo. I can’t imagine that the photo editors are so small minded as to treat this as a threat to their independence from a new administration.
    I certainly don’t believe for a minute that they would “be up in arms” if the Bush administration did the same thing. Not the same press that was noticeably absent when the Bush administration was peddling WMD’s that led up to the US invading a sovereign nation. If the press had done what they should have by asking questions, any question, the country would not be in a position of nation building in Iraq.

  3. right, both of you. But we are not talking about the medium here, magazines or newspapers, but wire service and photo agencies. Photographers are certainly not the ones to be blame of the weakness of the journalistic media. They should have the right to access the information. If the corporation refuse to run their images, that is another story.

  4. When the Oval Office is stormed by the press herd it hardly leads to organic or anything close to natural or a journalistic moments. Anything but! The public deserves to see the President from the fly on the wall vantage point i.e. Pete Souza, who has all the necessary credentials and talent to provide such moments. Pure belly-aching by the Wires who want resale rights and licensing fees to cash-in on this exciting moment in U.S. history.
    Who needs a mug shot photo op. especially when the biggest mug of all just left the office.

  5. Thank you for posting this. I stuck it on my Facebook wall and it generated a healthy discussion that may turn into a blog post. Interesting thoughts.

  6. Northern Virgina photographer,

    I am sorry, as much as I respect Pete Souza as a photographer, as much as I am very careful in accepting any images that he would shoot of Obama as the the perfect truth. He is on the White House payroll, not on mine. He, like any photographer hired for a job, is looking for the perfect image for his client. And we are not “the client”.

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