No More Staged Presidential Address Photos!

Last month, I, for one, was unpleasantly surprised to learn that some news photos of President Obama addressing the nation to announce the death of Osama bin Laden were actually photos of President Obama re-reading a few sentences of his address to news photographers after the actual live address. Reenacted. Staged. It was news to me that, as Poynter’s Al Tompkins reported, “this sort of staging has been going on for decades.”

But now, per a Washington Post headline, “Photos of presidential speeches to be captured in real time.” Real time! Just as some of us thought they always had been. From the Post:

The White House and news photographers have agreed to a new plan for shooting presidential speeches.

Out: staged, after-the-fact photo ops. In: a single photojournalist, who will be permitted to snap the president’s picture [with a shutter silencer] as he addresses the nation.

The agreement, hammered out quietly last week between the White House’s press office and the White House Correspondents’ Association, ends the long-standing but little-known practice of presidents posing for news photos after making important announcements. The images were then passed off in newspapers and on Web sites as photos taken during the speech rather than the re-creations they actually were.

News photographers will “now be permitted to designate a single representative to act as a ‘pool’ for the entire press,” such that, as New York Times photographer Doug Mills told the Post, “we will have still photos taken during the actual address by a news photographer.” Something you may have thought we already had.

The National Press Photographers Association site has more details on how this all transpired.

Related reading: Clint’s 2010 piece on access issues faced by White House photographers.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.