The Very Transparent Obama Administration

It is anything but:

THE Internet has been abuzz over the spectacle of President Obama and the prime ministers of Britain and Denmark snapping a photo of themselves — a “selfie,” to use the mot du jour — with a smartphone at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa on Tuesday.

Leaving aside whether it was appropriate, the moment captured the democratization of image making that is a hallmark of our gadget-filled, technologically rich era.

Manifestly undemocratic, in contrast, is the way Mr. Obama’s administration — in hypocritical defiance of the principles of openness and transparency he campaigned on — has systematically tried to bypass the media by releasing a sanitized visual record of his activities through official photographs and videos, at the expense of independent journalistic access.

The White House-based press corps was prohibited from photographing Mr. Obama on his first day at work in January 2009. Instead, a set of carefully vetted images was released. Since then the press has been allowed to photograph him alone in the Oval Office only twice: in 2009 and in 2010, both times when he was speaking on the phone. Pictures of him at work with his staff in the Oval Office — activities to which previous administrations routinely granted access — have never been allowed.

Instead, here’s how it’s done these days: An event involving the president discharging his official duties is arbitrarily labeled “private,” with media access prohibited. A little while later an official photo is released on the White House Flickr page, or via Twitter to millions of followers. Private? Hardly.

These so-called private events include meetings with world leaders and other visitors of major public interest — just the sorts of activities photojournalists should, and used to, have access to.

I keep waiting for Obama supporters to admit that when it comes to transparency (and a lot of other things), the Barack Obama we have seen in the White House is not the Barack Obama they voted for in 2008, or even 2012. Strangely enough, however, one giant cat appears to have gotten the tongues of just about every Obamaphile around.