President Reagan stepped into the White House Rose Garden yesterday for a ceremony honoring two conservationists from Costa Rica and was greeted by press photographers--without their cameras.
The photographers, from the wire services, news magazines and newspapers, including The Washington Post, stood with their arms folded to protest the refusal of White House officials to allow them to photograph Henry A. Kissinger's meeting with Reagan yesterday in the Oval Office.
Cameramen from the television networks, which were also excluded from the Kissinger meeting, did not join the Rose Garden boycott.
At his regular morning briefing yesterday, White House spokesman Larry Speakes announced that there would be no "photo opportunity" at the outset of the Kissinger meeting.
Such picture-taking sessions often are permitted at the beginning of presidential meetings. And Reagan frequently responds to questions from reporters during these brief encounters.
Speakes said the president instead would appear before reporters and cameramen at the presentation of the $50,000 J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, to two Costa Ricans.
The photographers said they were unhappy at being excluded from the Kissinger session because, as one put it, "This is the picture of the week."
It was the first meeting of Reagan and Kissinger since the former secretary of state was appointed to head a new bipartisan commission on Central America.
The Kissinger appointment touched off a chorus of protests from liberals and conservatives. And the White House was obviously sensitive about it yesterday. In addition to not being photographed with the president, Kissinger left the White House by a side entrance to avoid the cameras and reporters on the main driveway. His news conference was held at the State Department instead of the White House.
The photographers agreed to boycott the wildlife awards as a protest against their exclusion from the Oval Office, their first such protest during the Reagan administration. They left their cameras in the White House briefing room and stood with their arms folded during the awards ceremony.
Several of the photographers had called their offices for permission to participate in the boycott.
"It wasn't done angrily," said Time magazine photographer David Hume Kennerly, who was President Ford's personal photographer. "It's a very effective way to make a point."
Later in the day the White House agreed to release an official photograph of the Reagan-Kissinger session.