Editorial: Stay open, regardless of selfies

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 11:34 PM

Transparency and open government are at work inside the Beltway, led by President Barack Obama.

At least, that’s what he’s telling us on the White House website.

Not all press corps members agree. Evidence isn’t in recent photo opportunities either.

“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” reads the first line of his memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies.

During Newspapers Association of America meetings last month, two members of the media shared experiences. Tough questions were not allowed to be asked of the president, they alleged, and photographers were kept out of key events.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton took questions in joint press conferences between 130 and 150 times each, according to Julie Pace, a correspondent for The Associated Press. Obama checks in with 57.

A week ago, Obama welcomed the World Series champions and engaged in a selfie with one of Boston’s popular sluggers. Selfies are pictures taken by cellphone, usually of oneself and typically sent immediately into the social media airwaves.

When Olympians later visited the president for their recognition, a harsh keep cellphones in pockets order rattled the occasion.

The cellphone flap is periphery. The limitation on reasonable access by journalists assigned to the president is not.

Day or late night, the president isn’t beyond a staged television appearance. That way, he controls the message, like recently on “Ellen” as well as on the Internet’s “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis.

Reporters and photographers have a job. They’re representative of us. And when the questions are genuine, rather than preset, useful information can be obtained. We fight other country’s propaganda machines and disapprove of their use.

Photographers capture images to give a glimpse of the president. His day is often not perfect. The goal isn’t a “gotcha” moment, but authentic reporting through visual aid. A photographer paid by taxpayers and employed by the White House will give the image the boss wants to see.

Worst of all, the president’s actions trickle down to state and local government. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it is a costly detriment to open government at all levels across the country.