A picture truly is worth a thousand words, particularly in politics. Who can forget the revealing photo of President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin — their positions, expressions and body language spoke volumes about their mutual distrust.
That's why a letter sent by some of the nation's major news groups to the White House last week is so important.
"The nation's largest news organizations lodged a complaint Thursday against the White House for imposing unprecedented limitations on photojournalists covering President Barack Obama, which they say have harmed the public's ability to monitor its own government," the McClatchy news service reported. "The organizations accuse the White House of banning photojournalists from covering Obama at some events, and then later releasing its own photos and videos of the same events."
That letter was a strongly worded appeal to allow real press photographers into such events.
"Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties," the letter says. "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."
The White House has said it keeps press photographers out because events are "private."
"That rationale, however, is undermined when the White House contemporaneously releases its own photograph of a so-called private event through social media," the letter counters. "The restrictions imposed by the White House on photographers covering these events, followed by the routine release by the White House of photographs made by government employees of these same events, is an arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate newsgathering activities."
The letter also calls out the president, who often claims a high level of transparency in his administration.
"The right of journalists to gather the news is most critical when covering government officials acting in their official capacities," the letter explains. "Previous administrations have recognized this, and have granted press access to visually cover precisely these types of events, thus creating government transparency. It is clear that the restrictions imposed by your office on photographers undercut the President's stated desire to continue and broaden that tradition."
Of course, the White House responded that it is transparent.
"What we've done is we've taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the president doing his job," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in response to the letter. "To the American public, that's a clear win."
It's not – and the public realizes this. So do the news organizations that sent the letter. They're pledging not to use the White House photos, just as they wouldn't simply reprint a press release and call it "news."
The Tyler Morning Telegraph is a member of several of the organizations that signed the letter. We stand with them in calling for the White House to change its policies.