White House Briefing Transcript December 12, 2013

This is the portion of the White House Briefing of Thursday December 12, 2013, where White House press secretary Jay Carney answered reporters' questions about the lack of access to President Obama by photographers:



Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                 December 12, 2013




James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 

1:00 P.M. EST


Q: Last one on access around here.  You saw probably this New York Times op-ed today by the head of AP photo.  He’s charging at the President, and his words is “undemocratic, hypocritical” when it comes to transparency and openness around here because of photographers not having the same access as the official White House photographer here.  Specifically I want you to react to that, but more importantly, substantively, dozens of media organizations wrote to you about this recently.  What substantive steps are being taken beyond the back-and-forth on this?  What’s being done to actually improve that access?

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for that question, and 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.  I personally, as someone who was a reporter for 21 years, have a great deal of passion about this issue and believe strongly in the necessity of a free and independent press to cover the White House, the government, Washington.  When it comes to photographers, I have enormous regard, and so does the President, for the work that they do, for the power of their images and what they can convey.  

In my career as a reporter, before I got to Washington, I spent some time overseas and occasionally was in dangerous places, and what I always thought was amazing was that every reporter in those situations puts himself or herself at risk, but when you’re a print reporter or a TV reporter and there are bombs or bullets, you duck.  When you’re a cameraman or a photographer, you stand up.  And I have huge admiration for that service to the free flow of information and the unbelievable bravery that cameramen and photographers display, especially overseas in hard areas, in dangerous areas, like Afghanistan, like Syria and elsewhere.

I can commit to you that we are working and have been working on expanding access where we can.  Now, the tension between White Houses and White House press corps over access is longstanding, and I think you and I and others have discussed that.  I remember having debates about these issues when I was sitting in your seat -- or the seat behind you -- and know that this has been an ongoing discussion.  And nevertheless, I believe strongly -- I know Josh does, everybody here -- that we need to listen to those concerns and act on them where we can.

It is always going to be the case, as it has since there have been photographers in the White House, that White House photographers take pictures and White Houses release them.  And we’re obviously going to continue to do that.  There are new technological developments -- the Internet -- that make the way that these images are disseminated different from how it was done in the past when they used to develop film in the basement here and hand it out in the Briefing Room.  But the fundamental here hasn’t really changed, and we’re going to work with everyone here, with the photographers and with the White House Correspondents Association, to address this as much as we can.

Q: Last one, I promise.  But at the Mandela memorial service, the official White House photographer was up on the platform with the President -- the current President, two former Presidents.  You were asked earlier about the possibility of there could have, God forbid, been a terrible incident with this interpreter potential security issue.  The official White House photographer was up there and individual photographers from news organizations that you just hailed were not allowed on that same platform.  That was just a couple days ago.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, a couple of things, Ed.  I mean, I think there were photographers there, and I think if you ask the photographers on the trip, we made --

Q: They were in other areas of the stadium --

MR. CARNEY:  We made -- I think our staff went to great lengths to get as much access for all of our traveling press as we could, in fact, got exceptionally more access for our traveling press than we were told we would get.  And I think if you ask the people who traveled, they would confirm that.  That includes photographers and print reporters and TV reporters.  So that's something when we go overseas we work with all the time.  

Now, the disposition of the photographers when it comes to the way the President is standing or sitting is obviously something that is worked out depending on the host government and what we can do in working with the photographers.  But this is something, I promise you, Ed, we take seriously and we’re going to work hard on addressing in ways that we hope will be responsive.

Q: Can I follow up on that, please? 

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q: Just a specific question about that trip just to get a sense of how you -- how this White House approaches this.  The flight on Air Force One, which was what, 20 hours over and 20 hours back, with two Presidents on board, a historic event.  Was there any consideration given to allowing the White House photographers that were there as part of the pool on Air Force One to come up to get a photograph of the two Presidents?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't --

Q: It was a 40-hour flight.   There was plenty of time to do something like that.  

Q: And they were on the plane.

Q: And it was requested.

Q: And they asked. 

MR. CARNEY:  I get that.  But remember that we’re --

Q: It was okay for Pete Souza to take those pictures, right?  

MR. CARNEY:  Hasn’t it always been okay for a White House photographer to take pictures?

Q: I'm just saying --

Q: In all the hours that you spoke of, Jay, there was not possible for one second to arrange for --

MR. CARNEY:  I take your point.  The fact is the --

Q: -- the pool to take their pictures?

MR. CARNEY:  -- for a lot of those hours, the President, the former President, the First Lady and the former First Lady were asleep.  So we probably weren’t going to bring in a still pool for that.  Or they were having dinner or something like that.  But look, I think I just made clear that I want to work on this issue.  And I think that it’s --

Q: Is that fair to say that you’re acknowledging it’s an issue?  

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s certainly an issue and I --  

Q: We know it’s one for us.  You guys believe -- you believe this is -- needs to be better? 

MR. CARNEY:  It’s certainly an issue, and I promise you it’s been an issue for as long as I’ve been in Washington.  And I can show you a letter from the White House News Photographers Association to my predecessor in the Bush administration complaining about this.

Q: But you acknowledged from your end that you think it's -- you think this has not been --

MR. CARNEY:  I would acknowledge that, absolutely, we need to -- we're going to work with the press and with the photographers to try to address some of their concerns.  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.  That would be, I think, impossible to expect.

Q: Jay, but have you ever given consideration to the flip side, which is to say, you guys say to the press, we're not going to let you into an event because we consider it a private event, right -- the conversations between the Presidents, what have you -- and then Pete Souza or whoever takes those photos -- have you ever considered saying to them, you can't release those photos because we have said it's a private event.  Because it surprised all of us when you say it's a private event -- 

MR. CARNEY:  We put on the schedule when things are open press or closed press.  I don’t know that we designate them "private."  What I can say is that --  Mike, I think -- I really think this is an important discussion to have and I think that it's important to have it within the context of all the changes that are happening in the media.  And here's what I know, is that for years, through presidencies of both parties, there have been White House photographers, official White House photographers, who have, by the nature of their jobs, had been in rooms with the President when others aren't there and taken pictures and released those photos, often on the same day.  And what -- hold on.

Q: -- distribute them.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, so the issue here is -- I think this is the essence of the conversation, and it's not -- it means that -- because I think by that question you're acknowledging that we're not doing -- we're not operating any differently than other White House offices have operated except that the Internet exists and that in the past when White House photos were developed and handed out here, news organizations could decide whether their readers would ever see those photos.

What exists now on the Internet is the ability for everyone -- every one of you, everyone on the street, everyone around the world to take a picture and put it on the Internet.  And the White House posts some pictures on the Internet identified as official White House photographs.  So the fundamental difference here is distribution.  

And I can tell you, again, because of the respect I have for the photographers, in particular, that I am very sensitive to the situation therein -- and that all of us -- when I say us, I was in  -- by the transformation created by the Internet and the pressure that has put on business models.  And I think that's what is often never mentioned in op-eds or in other venues where this issue is raised, but a lot of this -- some of this, anyway, has to do with fundamental transformations in the media of which we and other institutions are simply participants, but we did not create the Internet, this administration, and -- 

Q: But, Jay -- 

Q: -- is not an issue on Air Force One -- 

MR. CARNEY:  Guys -- 

Q: The Internet had nothing to do with Air Force One. There was constraints -- 

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on, April.  

Go ahead.  

Q: Our problem is access.  You can put out a million pictures a day from the White House photographer and you bar -- 

MR. CARNEY:  And I'm saying that -- 

Q: And you put out pictures from Air Force One --   

MR. CARNEY:  And what I'm saying, Ann, is that we are going to work with -- as past White Houses have done, and we are -- 

Q: But past White Houses also allowed photos of the front of Air Force One --

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on, Jon.  And so have we.  But just not -- you think that -- hey guys, if you're telling me that on every flight that President Bush took and every flight that President Clinton took -- 

Q: Well, no, but talking about historic flights -- 

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on --   

Q: This was not any flight, let's be honest, with twoPresidents on the plane. 

MR. CARNEY:  Guys, what I'm saying is we hear you, and I want to address this.  And I want to work with the photographers to improve that situation and see if we can be responsive to your concerns.  All I'm noting, in answer to Michael's question, is that this is part of a bigger transformation that's happening out there that's driven by the ability of everyone to post anything on the Internet free of charge so that you don't have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph. 

Q: Jay, no, uh-uh.

MR. CARNEY:  That's true, Ann.  It's true.  

Q: The Internet had nothing to do --

MR. CARNEY:  April.

  Q: The Internet had nothing -- on Air Force One, we understand there were constraints in Africa on the ground.  But the Internet had nothing to do on Air Force One, when you had a large group of reporters in the pool -- photographers there, as well -- who could have come up with Pete Souza to the front of Air Force One and taken a couple of pictures.  Maybe not as maybe Pete Souza did, but we were not allowed.  

Q: And you can post as many as you want.  

Q: Yes, but you could have allowed us the availability. 

MR. CARNEY:  I hear you, April.  I hear you, and I'm saying that those are the kind of issues -- 

Q: The Internet had nothing to do with that.

MR. CARNEY:  -- we're going to address, and I want to work with the Correspondents Association and the photographers to see if we can be responsive in a way that allows them more of the access that they seek and obviously allows us to operate the way every other White House has operated. 

Q: Did you hear the clicks from these cameras when you started talking about this?  They were letting you know that they're here.  (Laughter.)  Did you hear that?

MR. CARNEY:  I always know they're here. 

Q: No, no, no, but, I mean, seriously, did you hear their clicks while they were taking pictures of you, while you were speaking about this issue?  Did you hear them?  That was their form of saying, we are here. 

MR. CARNEY:  I get that, April.  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  

Brianna.  Brianna, let's give Brianna a chance. 

Q: You say it's an issue of distribution being different. But isn't it also the difference of the standard that this administration has set for itself?  You say past White Houses have done things similarly.  I mean, anyone here can tell that there's less access than under the Bush administration, and yet it was President Obama who said --

MR. CARNEY:  Did you cover Bush?

Q: I did.  I did at times.  And it was President Obama who talked about transparency being a hallmark of his administration. So isn't it sort of the problem is that he has set up a standard himself that he's not meeting, that his White House is not meeting?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you, Brianna, is every White House, every President has had meetings that the press didn't cover.  Every White House has released photographs of, if they had children, of Presidents and First Ladies with their children that obviously the press didn't cover.  But I understand that also the press corps has always sought and sometimes demanded more access.  And I want to work with and we want to work with the photographers and others to see how we can be more responsive, understanding that I will not live to see the day, and neither will you, when independent journalists who cover the White House will say, you know what, I got all the access I wanted today or this week or next month.  It's not going to happen.

Q: That's not what we're asking for. 

MR. CARNEY:  But that is -- there's the issue of access -- I think that's what you just identified -- versus distribution.  So there are two things here.  And what we can address is access.  But I can tell you that in a lot of the conversations I had with photographers, it's also come down to distribution and what they view as competition, because those photographers become available and create competition to them because of the way -- the modern ways that these things can be distributed, not through news organizations.  

And I'm sympathetic to that, and I understand it, and I understand the downward pressure that the Internet creates on media organizations, all of the ones represented here, by and large.  But on the access issue, that's something we can address and we're going to try to address. 

Q: When you say that you're going to work to address that, so does that mean that you will allow photographers into --

Q: And reporters.

Q: -- and reporters --

MR. CARNEY:  We're going to try to --

Q: -- and editorial -- producers and reporters into events that you're not -- I mean, you're saying you're working with them.  What does that mean?  Are you actually doing something, or are you just talking about it?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying that we are going to -- we have been meeting with representatives of the White House Correspondents, and we will continue to work to increase access, to be responsive to some of these concerns.  But I can promise you that the outcome of that will not be complete satisfaction, because there are going to be occasions, as there have been with every President, that the press is not present in a meeting or a situation involving the President, where there are existing photographs because the White House photographer took them.  And some of those are national security related.  Some of those --

Q: Are you going to -- concrete examples of turning the dial towards more openness?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes. 

Q: So there will be --

MR. CARNEY:  We are going to work on getting more access.  But I can, again, promise that --

Q: What does that mean, "we're going to work on"?  Are you going to give the access?  What does it mean "working on giving" -- 

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying that we're going to work on finding ways to be responsive and provide more access.  What I can promise you, though, is that there will continue to be occasions with this President, as there have been with every one of his 43 predecessors, where there are meetings and events and moments that are not covered by the outside press. 

Q: Nobody is saying that --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I know, but I'm saying -- but I'm also saying that what I don't expect in response to improvements that we make that might be welcomed, that everybody will say, okay, now we're satisfied, because then you wouldn’t be doing your job. And I get that.  

Q: But do you acknowledge that this White House has provided less access than previous White Houses, for instance, to the Oval Office?  That you put out --

MR. CARNEY:  I can say that the statement in that piece about the Oval Office was factually wrong.  But I can tell you that in my experience as a reporter -- now, I wasn't a photographer -- the answer to that is I completely reject it.  

Q: So what are you working on then?  You're saying -- 

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you --

Q: -- you’ve provided more access --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying on the issue of photographers, I want to work with giving photographers more access.  They have come to us and been very clear about their concerns, and we want to address those concerns in the best way that we can. 

  Q: Can I ask a question just about the Newtown anniversary?

  MR. CARNEY:  Yes. 

---< Discussion about Newtown anniversary>--


Q: Would you acknowledge it was a missed opportunity not to bring the stills up on Air Force One, considering these conversations are ongoing and it’s an issue raised and you’ve acknowledged, and that it would have been an opportunity not only to provide a moment of history, which it genuinely was, and that there was ample time for it, and that it could have been arranged?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would have to take the question about Air Force One and consider it.  But I would say --

Q: I’m only asking about that.

MR. CARNEY:  I would say broadly that in retrospect, I think we can always find occasions where I would agree that we should have or could have or might have found a way to provide more access.  And again, I think that that reflects some of the discussions that we’ve been having and will have with photographers and others about this matter.  

It is certainly the case that Presidents Obama and Bush as well as the First Ladies were in public together quite a lot and photographed together quite a lot.  So it wasn’t as if that fact was not covered by the independent press.  But on this question and others, again, there are always worthy discussions to be had about what kind of access can be provided, and then also a realistic assessment of why sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it can be difficult or impossible to expand access or extend access to a certain event depending on what it is or who’s involved and what the wishes of others might be who might be covered or photographed.

Q: You can understand why we would consider it a missed opportunity?

MR. CARNEY:  I absolutely do, sure.