Obama Skirts Free Speech Issue Over Kids Pics

ObamaThere’s nothing that gets me more riled than someone constricting the freedoms of the press. Except maybe the president of the United States trying to repress the press.

President Obama has inflamed White House photographers yet again over his on-again, off-again rules for photographing the first kids.

After asking for respect for young Sasha and Malia’s privacy during the campaign, the president has allowed certain scripted moments to be sent out over the wires. But when an unscripted moment comes up – even with photographers allowed onto the premises and in plain view of said photographers, the Obama administration has been quick to advise the press they’d better not see that picture out in the public.

According to an article in the AP yesterday, Sasha Obama was standing on the Truman balcony of the White House when the president happened to look up and see her. Sending a wave in her direction, he was answered with a wave back . . . which photographers caught (see the two together over at Jezebel). Photographers, I’ll remind you, who were already invited in to take photographs.

So when the White House told them they couldn’t print that particular pic, is it any wonder the press got pissed?

Freedom of the press is not nearly as straightforward as the general public would believe. And yet, it affords us powers that many in the public don’t understand. Standing at a stree fair, taking pictures for my local newspaper, I’ve been informed by parents that they’ll take my camera after I take their child’s picture. Sure, if they want to see the other side of a set of bars.

If your child is in public, a photographer can take their picture. It’s that simple. Which explains why there are myriad pictures of celebrities’ kids out there, why the paparazzi are still in business.

And yet, there are rules. We can’t, for example, trespass. There are restrictions in private settings, and although my photojournalism jobs have never taken me quite this far, I would assume the White House falls under most of those private settings and more. The White House is a national museum, but it is also a home, not to mention home of the leader of the free world. Much of the place falls under the exclusionary rules to freedome of the press dealing with matters of national security.

But is it fair to say the kids fall under that too? Because as many have pointed out, the Obama girls are seen in public. Remember the ice cream shot? The Parade photos?

Of course, those all fell under the “approved” photos by the Obama White House, as do the photos on the Obama Flickr page, which news organizations can ask to use (although that is sometimes rejected). The point being, the Obamas have not made this a “no photos of our girls” White House. They’ve made it a “no photos of our girls . . . unless we feel like it” White House, and one many critics say is more of a “no photos of our girls . . . unless it can win the president points or make him look good” White House. Not to mention the complaints that the Obama White House is hurting the money-making abilities of certain members of the press corps by disseminating its own photos and saying no to the professional photos.

As a parent, I’m willing to give him a certain benefit of the doubt. He wants to protect his kids. But as a reporter, I must say that protecting your kids means keeping them out of the limelight, period. If you don’t want the press taking photos of your daughter on the balcony, tell her to stay off the balcony.

If they’ve taken the picture, as a man who swore to protect the Constitution, you sigh and move on. Especially as there was nothing untoward happening, no paparazzi sneaking around the back of the White House lawn or slipping in to their playroom.

You don’t have to like paparazzi or even more legitimate news photographers, Mr. President. But they’re just doing their jobs, jobs protected by our Constitution. Let them do it.

Image: AP

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