Despite the prompt apology issued by the Vice President's press office to the University of Maryland journalism school for deleting the photographs of a journalism student covering an event with Joe Biden earlier this week, the White House News Photographers Association fired off an admonishing letter Thursday to the press office and sought a meeting to ensure that it does “not ever happen again.”
“While we commend your office for immediately apologizing to the reporter . . . we do not believe that such a blatant violation of free press/speech rights protected under the First Amendment should pass without comment,” wrote Ronald Sachs, who heads the photographers association. The letter was also written on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
On Wednesday, Capital News Service reporter Jeremy Barr — wearing his congressional press credential — was covering Biden's announcement of a new domestic violence initiative in Rockville, Md., when a staffer directed him to a non-press area. After the event, another staffer questioned Barr and demanded to see his camera. The staffer said Barr's location gave him an "unfair advantage" over other journalists covering the event and forced the journalism student to delete the photographs in front of her. The staffer also asked Barr to show her his iPhone to make sure he did not take photographs on it. Barr was then detained by the staffer for about 10 minutes while she contacted her supervisor before finally permitting Barr to leave, according to Capital News Service, which is run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Lucy A. Dalglish, the college's dean, filed a formal complaint with the Vice President's press office immediately and said the staff member violated the Privacy Protection Act. (Dalglish is a former executive director of the Reporters Committee.)
"This statute makes clear that it is the policy of the U.S. government to provide special protections for the press against searches and seizures by law enforcement and other government officials . . . Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected. I request an immediate apology to our reporter, Jeremy Barr, and to the editors and staff of Capital News Service. I also request that your staff be trained in basic First Amendment rights of citizens and media to ensure such tactics are not employed in the future," Dalglish wrote.
Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff told The Washington Post that she immediately apologized to Dalglish, the reporter involved and Capital News Service and assured them it would never happen again.
According to Barkoff, the staffer in question did not regularly interact with the press. She told The Post "somebody really screwed up."
Barkoff could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the White House News Photographers Association's request for a meeting.
Related Reporters Committee resources: