There is an interesting fight brewing this week after CBS News reported that the White House is refusing to release a photo of President Donald Trump signing a bill overturning an Obama-era regulation restricting certain people from buying guns. I was previously critical of both the Bush and Obama Administrations in withholding photos for purposes political purposes. These photos are the property of the American people and should not be withheld from the media because the White House does not like the imagery. There is a valid journalistic interest in the photo, which should have been released to CBS.
CBS reported that it asked the White House to release a photo of Trump signing H. J. Res. 40, legislation shortly after Trump took office. However, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly responded that “We don’t plan to release the picture at this time.” Why? This is a legitimate journalistic request for the release of a publicly owned photo.
My criticism is not based on any judgment of the nexus drawn between the tragic shooting this week and the legislation. I am perfectly willing to accept a valid argument that there is no real connection. However, that is not the point. The White House is fully capable of objecting to the nexus without withholding the photo.
The bill rolled back on an Obama regulation that barred an estimated 75,000 Americans who receive disability benefits from buying a gun. It also required the Social Security Administration to report people receiving disability benefits. Finally, it required a mental health condition to the FBI’s background check system.
Trump acknowledged yesterday that mental illness was a factor in the shooting. That still does not mean that this law would have prevented this teen from acquiring an AR-15. However, it is ridiculous to deny the legitimate inquiry into the connection as well as legitimate news story in exploring Trump’s pro-gun rights stance in his presidency.
While there is obviously discretion in what photos to release, this was not a shot in the private quarters of the White House or some casual moment. It was the signing of a federal law.
Finally, this is another example of a misstep by a White House staff that seems to continually lurch from controversy to controversy. The denial only served to generate more coverage and leave the appearance that the White House was trying to hide its record. Once again, I am baffled by these continuing self-inflicted wounds.
The White House should release the photo.