Why We Can’t Trust Handout Photos

There has been a quiet battle going on in Washington, one that has been playing out in newspapers, magazines and television. One that no one in the general public is even aware of.

It is the clamping down of visual access to the president. President Obama has an excellent photographer in Pete Souza, a man with a long journalism history. But he is acting as a PR shooter now and the White House has been slowly limiting the access of photojournalists and encouraging news outlets to use Souza’s handout photos. The evil part of this is most news outlets are doing it and not letting viewers know that they are seeing propaganda images.

But does it matter? Does it matter if it’s an Associated Press photographer in the room or a White House photographer when it is just two people talking?

I’d argue yes. And while I don’t think this White House photography staff would go this far, you can see how other governments handle images in a less-than-ethical manner.

Open access is critical. While it may not go so far as manipulations, the editing process itself can control the impression one gets from an image. Body language is a key factor in reading a lot of political images and if the images are selected to show a point of view, well … then maybe we really don’t know what’s happening in our government.

(Thanks to Kathy Easthagen for the link.)

Mark E. Johnson

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