The PJ Tatler

Dana Milbank: Ya Know, Obama's Photo Policy is Kinda Sorta Stalinist

Yes, it is. It’s not the only totalitarian feature of this regime.

Is the Obama White House airbrushing history?

It was a hallmark of the Stalin era: Fallen Soviet leaders vanished from official photographs. Nobody accuses President Obama of such subterfuge (well, nobody except for those who believe he forged his birth certificate), but a change in longtime practice in the White House has raised questions about the integrity of images Americans see of their president.

Milbank is joining the media chorus against the Obama administration’s habit of excluding news photographers from events and then just releasing its own official photo, taken by a government employee, as a substitute for real coverage. So while Milbank is right, there’s more than a trace of self-interest involved here.

I asked Pete Souza, a White House photographer, whether other photos of his have been altered. He sent me to deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, who said that altering photos would be done only to protect classified information and that he didn’t know of other instances. He defended the photo releases generally, telling reporters, “There are certain circumstances where it is simply not feasible to have independent journalists in the room when the president is making decisions.”

Making decisions? Here are some of the big moments at which the White House replaced independent eyeballs with in-house eyeballs: The president and first lady waving to a sea of people, with the Washington Monument in the background, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march; Obama swimming with one of his daughters in the Gulf of Mexico to show that the water is clean; Obama embracing one of his daughters in Nelson Mandela’s prison cell; the president touring the West Bank church on the spot where Jesus is thought to have been born (news photographers were allowed to shoot images when George W. Bush toured that location); Obama alone on the Rosa Parks bus, sitting in the same row where the civil rights icon sat; Obama shaking hands on Veterans Day with the oldest living World War II veteran; Obama shaking hands with Mitt Romney in the Oval Office; the first lady and the president greeting kids the day White House tours resumed this month.

Etc. It’s nice to see. But like Mark Halperin’s recent talk about Obamacare’s death panels, it’s years too late. We didn’t have to have a president who openly exhibited tyrannical tendencies, and the nation certainly didn’t have to re-elect him. The same media who are crying about photography policies now are massively to blame for not vetting Barack Obama when they had the chance, and they’re even more to blame when you recall that they openly mocked those who attempted to vet Obama and his policies.