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White House faces press revolt over access to Obama’s South Africa flight

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

The White House faced an uproar from journalists Thursday over a lack of access to President Obama, including a virtual blackout of photographs during his nearly 40-hour flight to South Africa and back this week for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

White House press secretary Jay Carney was besieged by questions from the press corps, some of whom accused the Obama White House of being less open to the media than his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

Many journalists reminded Mr. Carney of Mr. Obama's claim that he is running the "most transparent administration in history."

"Anyone here can tell you that there's less access than under the Bush administration," CNN reporter Brianna Kellar told Mr. Carney.

Mr. Carney said independent journalists aboard Air Force One on the president's flight to South Africa were not allowed to photograph Mr. Obama or Mr. Bush and their wives aboard the plane because the Obamas were sleeping for some of the flight and eating at other times.

"For a lot of those hours, the president, former president, first lady and the former first lady were asleep, so we probably weren't going to bring in a still pool for that, or they were having dinner or something like that," Mr. Carney said.

But journalists pointed out that the official White House photographer, Pete Souza, snapped many photographs of the Bushes and Obamas during the flight and released them to the public.

Jonathan Karl, a reporter for ABC News, told Mr. Carney that photographers or network camera operators should have been allowed to film the Obamas and the Bushes during the long flight.

"It was a 40-hour flight, there's plenty of time to do something like that," Mr. Karl said.

An exasperated Mr. Carney finally said, "We hear you, and I want to address this."

"What does that mean — 'We're going to work on it'?" Ms. Kellar demanded.

The flight to South Africa was for the memorial service for Mandela, held in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"I want to work on giving photographers more access," said Mr. Carney, a journalist himself for two decades before joining the Obama White House. "They have come to us and made clear their concerns."

The White House Correspondents Association sent a letter to the White House last month objecting to a lack of access to the president. Mr. Carney said it's an issue that all administrations grapple with.

"Every White House, every president has had meetings that the press didn't cover," he said. "Every White House has released photographs of, if they had children, presidents and first ladies with their children, that obviously the press didn't cover. But I understand that also the press corps has always sought and sometimes demanded more access."

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