WASHINGTON — The White House will permit still photography of major presidential addresses, replacing a custom of presidents re-enacting their speeches for photojournalists. News organizations have protested the practice for years.
Under a new policy worked out between the White House and the White House Correspondents' Association, each event will be assigned one dedicated news photographer from a pool made up of The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and The New York Times.
Though an official White House photographer is permitted to record a presidential speech, White Houses have preferred re-enactments for news photographers to avoid distractions. As a solution, the designated photographer will have to use a muzzle to silence the clicking and whirring sounds associated with a single-lens reflex camera.
The issue came to a head May 1 after President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in a live, nighttime address from the White House. Following his remarks, five photographers were permitted into the East Room of the White House to photograph the president as he stood at the podium and reread a few lines of his speech. Photo captions on images sent by The Associated Press made clear the images were taken after the speech, but the photos nevertheless prompted complaints about the staging.
News photographers, not fond of single photographer pools, nevertheless accepted the new White House policy.
"While we welcome real time access by a pool photographer to the president's national television addresses, we also hope that the White House continues to allow as much independent access as possible to other events and that one person agency pools do not become the norm," said Santiago Lyon, the AP's director of photography.
Doug Mills, a New York Times photographer and secretary treasurer of the correspondents' association, said the arrangement does allow for a live news photo of an actual address – "something we've never had," he said.
Before signing off on the policy, the White House tested the plan during the taping of one of Obama's recent radio addresses.
"We wanted to reach a way to accommodate the interests of White House photo journalists in a way that would not infringe on the president's ability to speak directly to the nation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.