Ask the Editor

Why we won’t publish photos issued by the White House

sduerr@thetribunenews.comDecember 5, 2013 

Sandra Duerr

As journalists, we strive to offer independent coverage — whether it’s breaking news, investigative stories, and individual or business profiles, for example. That includes photos.

Yet the White House has imposed what news organizations, including The Tribune, believe are unprecedented limitations on photojournalists covering President Barack Obama.

Instead of allowing journalists to cover some public events, it’s banning them — then releasing its own photos and videos, using social media to help spread the word.

“Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties,” according to the recent letter sent by 38 news organizations to the White House, the Associated Press reported. “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.”

As a result of this policy, our parent company, Sacramento-based McClatchy Co., other newspapers, all major broadcast and cable networks, wire services and online services have lodged an official complaint. We’re seeking a meeting with the White House to discuss the issue.

In the meantime, The Tribune and editors of McClatchy’s 29 other daily newspapers have agreed not to publish photos issued by the White House.

Although this won’t be a significant departure from current practices, “we think it’s important to take a stance that helps send the message that the limited access works against the public’s interests, diminishes the flow of information and often creates an inaccurate portrait of events in the White House,’’ said Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy’s vice president of news.

The only exception: when access by a news photographer is not possible for national security reasons, such as the photo of White House staff members gathered during the bin Laden raid. We’ll continue to consider these exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Where’s the news? The Nov. 17 article covering the entire front page about Mrs. Heidi Cruz was very nice, and I am proud she is from San Luis Obispo. But I don’t see the news in that article and believe it belonged in the editorial or (Central Coast) Living section of the paper. I do believe it was placed there as propaganda for the Republican Party. The integrity of this newspaper has suffered greatly. Please get back to reporting the news. — John Elliott, Morro Bay

Q: Thank you for your exceptionally well-written article about Heidi Cruz in last Sunday’s Tribune. Like him or not, Senator Ted Cruz has made his mark on the national level in a very short time and is likely to be a political force in the future. I had no idea his wife was from SLO, so it was interesting and informative to learn about her background and her views on her husband and other matters. And I cannot close my message without also thanking you for writing your article without a single hint of political bias. That was refreshing and is all-too-rare these days. — Robert Olson, Arroyo Grande

A: Clearly, staff reporter Patrick S. Pemberton’s story on Heidi Cruz struck a nerve. We wrote the story — and published it on the front page — because it offered a closer look at a San Luis Obispo native whose husband, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, helped force ashutdown of the federal government. Not only did the article disclose Heidi Cruz’s professional success in politics and finance, but it also shared her insight into Ted Cruz’s beliefs. In addition, we suspect that most readers, like writer Robert Olson above, weren’t aware of her SLO roots.

Do you have a question about the newspaper, our website or our coverage? If so, please write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112, or email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr.

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