Press gets heated with White House over access

The atmosphere in the White House briefing room got heated Thursday afternoon as reporters challenged a spokesman over press access to the president.

After delivering a letter arguing that officials are “blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” members of the White House press corps cut into principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest as he defended the administration’s policies on press access.

Press gets heated with White House over access

“It is the responsibility of those of you who sit in your seats to push for more. You’re supposed to be agitating for more access. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be doing your job,” Earnest told reporters as he filled in for press secretary Jay Carney at the White House press briefing. “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.”

Earlier Thursday, the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association delivered a letter to Earnest detailing press concerns that the White House has engaged in a “troubling break from tradition” by choosing to release photos and videos of events to which the press has not had access, but to which White House photographers and videographers have had access.

As POLITICO has reported, much of President Obama’s daily schedule is not made public, though some of it later becomes public when the White House releases photos, videos or blog posts about the president’s activities, something the White House argues has given Americans more access to Obama.

“What we have actually done is use a range of new technology to provide people greater access to the president,” Earnest argued, to the scoffs of some reporters. “There are certain circumstances where it’s simply not feasible to have independent journalists in the room when the president’s making decisions, so rather than close that off to the American people,” the White House has chosen to use technology and its web presence to convey those images via its website and social media.

NBC News’s Chuck Todd asked Earnest if the Obama White House would be critical if, for instance, Russia’s government did the same thing. “If Vladimir Putin were doing something like that, you guys would mock it, [and say] there was no free press,” Todd asked, qualifying it by adding: “I know that’s an extreme way of looking at it.”

Earnest argued back that the White House isn’t denying all press access to the president, just augmenting by using “new technology and the president’s personal photographer” to offer “additional insight” about the president and his agenda.

Earnest also had exchanges with WHCA president Steve Thomma, of McClatchy, and former president Ed Henry, of Fox News.

“We don’t view the government camera … as a substitute in any way for the lens that’s wielded by a professional, independent photojournalist,” Earnest told Thomma.

“This is a priority and this is something … that we work on every single day,” Earnest continued. “Before I leave this building today, somebody’s going to present me with the president’s schedule and they’re gonna say, what can we do to give the White House press corps access to the president’s activity’s tomorrow?”


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