Secret Service controls journalists’ access to US presidential campaign

Secret Service look on as Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a town hall at the Rochester Opera House in Rochester, New Hampshire, on Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016.  - M. Scott Brauer
Secret Service look on as Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a town hall at the Rochester Opera House in Rochester, New Hampshire, on Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016. – M. Scott Brauer

The US Secret Service has taken an increased role in controlling access and behavior to political events where they operate, and that is raising concerns about journalists’ access and ability to cover the current US presidential election process. For the first time, the Secret Service now has authority over which journalists are issued credentials for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

This article on the Dissent NewsWire published by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee offers a good summary of the issues at hand. First, journalists must have applied for credentials through the Congressional Press Galleries (the deadline was in April). After that application is approved, the process is handed over to the Secret Service to run background checks, though the actual background checks will be handled by a third-party private company called Ardian Group. The same company handled background checks for press covering the Pope’s 2015 visit to the United States.

Writing to media colleagues (parts of which were published by Politico and the Daily Beast) BuzzFeed’s Washington Bureau Chief John Stanton detailed his concerns about the Secret Service’s new role in vetting journalists. “It seems like an unnecessary step and it gives them in my mind a new and troubling precedence to try and exert authority over the press corps,” Stanton wrote. Because the process lacks any transparency, he wonders what might disqualify a reporter from being able to cover the Conventions. Would Christopher Morris be refused access because of his well-documented assault by a Secret Service agent and subsequent removal from a Trump event? What about reporters who’ve been arrested during the process of their reporting? “[T]he Secret Service told POLITICO that such an arrest would not warrant a denial. Instead, they said they were looking for such things as aggravated assault or domestic violence charges — even multiple DUIs wouldn’t necessarily warrant a denial, they said.”

But right now, there is no way to know what will result in a denial of credentials, and as far as I can tell, there is no appeals process for a denied credential. “The Secret Service has refused to explain what past activities would prevent a journalist from obtaining clearance, and there is no viable appeals process. So a reporter may be denied the ability to cover the convention based on incorrect information, or political motivation,” writes Sue Udry for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

“As we understand it, this intrusive vetting process will not be imposed on delegates, alternates and invited guests to the conventions—all of whom will be accessing the same areas in the convention hall as the news media,” BuzzFeed’s Stanton wrote (excerpted at the Daily Beast), “We find it perplexing that subjecting only the news media to a higher level of scrutiny would ensure a secure convention, while thousands of other attendees go unchecked and unverified.”

Screenshot of US Secret Service FAQ page with information about background checks and security for so-called National Special Security Events. - screenshot taken 25 May 2016 - http://www.secretservice.gov/about/faqs/
Screenshot of US Secret Service FAQ page with information about background checks and security for so-called National Special Security Events. – screenshot taken 25 May 2016 – http://www.secretservice.gov/about/faqs/

The Secret Service’s authority to do this stems from a 2012 change to US Criminal Code, 18 US Code § 3056 (e) (1), which reads, “When directed by the President, the United States Secret Service is authorized to participate, under the direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security, in the planning, coordination, and implementation of security operations at special events of national significance, as determined by the President,” and Presidential Decision Directive 22, a secret directive issued by President Obama in 2013. Obama’s administration does not have a great track record for ease of press access.

I’m going through the screening process right now, so this is an issue close to me. I ran into issues with the Secret Service a couple of times while covering the New Hampshire primary for my project, This is the worst party I’ve ever been to. Before one Clinton event, a Secret Service officer dropped my flash. At a couple of Trump events, Secret Service officers prevented the press from getting close to the stage, despite promises from the campaign that we would have an opportunity to do so. At one event, members of the press couldn’t go to the bathroom without an escort. At another, a CNN reporter was threatened with being blacklisted from covering future events if he left the designated press area. At a Ben Carson event, Secret Service first denied me access to the event (their information about access times was different from what the campaign press liaison had sent via email) and then told me I couldn’t move around a room where members of the public were allowed to move around without restriction; at that event, the Carson press liaison said she had no problem with me being there or moving around the room, and didn’t know why the Secret Service was being so restrictive.

As it stands, it’s getting more difficult to cover politics, and that’s troubling.

Only 15% of news photographers are women: World Press Photo/Reuters Institute survey of photojournalists

Only 15% of news photographers are women. source: World Press Photo and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Only 15% of news photographers are women. source: World Press Photo and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Last year, World Press Photo and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published the results of an online survey of 1556 photographers who entered the 2015 World Press Photo annual competition, and the results are fascinating. The report, entitled The State of News Photography: The Lives andLivelihoods of Photojournalists in the Digital Age (← pdf), looks at the demographics of photographers, how for whom they work, how much they are paid, how the ethics of journalism and manipulation figure into their work, and other topics. The whole report is worth a look.

Particularly interesting in the report are the breakdowns of photojournalists by gender. Of the respondents, only 15% were women. Self-employment is much higher among women; 79.2% of women who responded to the survey are self-employed, while only 55.9% of men are. There is a higher percentage of female photographers than men in the lowest income bracket, earning between $0 and $29,999 from photography, and likewise proportionally fewer women than men in the highest income bracket reported in the study.

Of course, this is not a new problem, nor, frankly, is it surprising. I wrote about the issue in 2013, when a tumblr post by Daniel Shea, called On Sexism in Editorial Photography, went viral. Shea’s post has disappeared, but it’s preserved on the dvafoto tumblr, and it’s worth revisiting. Likewise, some of the links in my post about Shea’s piece have been lost to history, but many still exist and still deserve consideration. Looking at the WPP/Reuters Institute survey, it seems like things haven’t changed much since 2013.

Despite the disappointing results of this survey, it’s worth celebrating the tremendous work done by women photographers around the world. ViewFind recently published a great collection of what they call The Mighty 15%. The New York Times’ Women in the World earlier this month asked, “What’s at stake when so few of [stories from around the world] are told by women.” The Photo Brigade held a panel discussion in February about women in photojournalism. Last year, BuzzFeed posted about 12 Kick-Ass Women Photojournalists To Follow On Instagram. Ruth Fremson wrote an honest and thought-provoking piece on the subject in July of last year. And organizations such as Firecracker, the Inge Morath Foundation, and Women Photojournalists of Washington, provide vital support to women in photography.

There is one possibly positive note on the gender disparity in photojournalism in the WPP/Reuters Institute report. 49.6% of women who responded said that they “mostly” have control over the editing and production of their work. Only 37.9% of men said the same. The report attributes this to the self-employed/employee results in the survey, but it’s nice to see that 88.7% of women report “sometimes” or “mostly” having authority over their own work.

2016 Guggenheim photography fellows announced

The 2016 Guggenheim Fellowships were just announced and, as usual, the photography fellows are a fascinating and diverse bunch. There are some photographers I’ve admired for years, and others that are new to me. I haven’t seen links to their work collected anywhere, so I figured I’d do that here. I’ve also included links to their Guggenheim page, some of which include bios or information about the work awarded:

  • Dru DonovanGuggenheim page
  • Hasan ElahiGuggenheim page
  • McNair EvansGuggenheim page
  • Lyle Ashton HarrisGuggenheim page
  • Matthew JensenGuggenheim page
  • Alex MajoliGuggenheim page (check out his recent work on migration in China for MSNBC if you haven’t already.)
  • Eileen NeffGuggenheim page
  • Louie PaluGuggenheim page
  • Robin SchwartzGuggenheim page
  • Lida SuchyGuggenheim page
  • Yvonne Venegas (her personal website is currently broken, but here’s an interview with her from 2014)
  • Additionally, photographer and filmmaker Carlos Javier Ortiz (Guggenheim page) was awarded a fellowship for Film and Video.

    (via PDN Pulse)