Washington (CNN) – Dozens of mainstream media outlets wrote a letter to the White House Press Secretary Thursday alleging his office has been barring photographers from events where President Barack Obama is present and swapping in their own photographs as a substitute.
The letter to Jay Carney from the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) decried the “routine” denial of photographers and videographers from occasions when the President is “performing his 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,” the letter read. CNN was among the 38 outlets signing the note.
The journalists’ letter claimed the White House was using its own photographers to document the President’s activities rather than independent journalists, a situation the WHCA said amounted to releasing “visual press releases.”
Pete Souza, the chief official White House photographer, and a team of deputies frequently photograph the president in meetings and situations where the press is not permitted; those images are then released online on Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.
In their letter, the journalists list incidents dating back to July where independent press coverage was denied, but an official White House photograph was released.
“While certain of these events may appear ‘private’ in nature, the decision of the White House to release its own contemporaneous photograph(s) suggests that the White House believes these events are, in fact, newsworthy and not private,” the letter states.
In Thursday’s press briefing, Carney’s deputy Josh Earnest said the White House takes seriously the work of independent journalists covering the President.
“We don’t view the government camera, if you will, as a substitute for the lens that’s wielded by a professional independent journalist,” Earnest said.