New York Times photographer Doug Mills tells C-SPAN that his life covering President Trump is “exhausting.”
Do not, however, mistake that claim for a complaint. “The White House is quite an exciting place to work right now,” Mills said in a chat with Brian Lamb that aired on C-SPAN on Sunday night.
Business is good, too. “From a photographer’s standpoint, we get a lot more access to the president. I see him more on a daily basis than we did with Barack Obama. Sometimes three or four times a day, sometimes five times a day we will see him, and we’re able to photograph him in different situations — some meetings, some bill signings, executive orders, stuff like that,” said Mills.
Mills highlighted the generous access to Trump at the outset of his interview with Lamb, perhaps to draw a contrast with the status quo ante Trump. As reported by Mills’s own paper in late 2013, White House photographers reached the point of “mutiny” over restrictions to their access to President Barack Obama. Access to key meetings, complained the photographers, was barred, preventing news organizations from chronicling the president’s schedule. Meanwhile, official White House photographer Pete Souza documented just about every step of the president. “In all due respect, some of that work, I think, came at the expense of some of the access that the press was not getting,” Mills said in his C-SPAN interview. Mills said that Obama press secretary Josh Earnest did a “great job” of getting media photographers “back into the fold.”
Into the fold is exactly where Mills is these days, he says. Asked by Lamb about a killer photo of the president at an executive-order signing event — merely a shot of his joined hands at a desk — Mills responded that when a photographer is allowed to hang in the Oval Office, creative opportunities arise. “I was able to put a camera up, high in the air and look down on his desk and I was waiting for them to bring the executive order over to him. And I ended up just liking that picture better than the one of him with the actual papers in front of him,” said Mills to Lamb.
Journalists covering the White House have struggled with the trade-offs between access and, well, everything else that comes their way. The president himself has been brutal in his assessments of the media, calling it “fake news” and seeking to delegitimize it whenever an unfavorable story line emerges. And that’s a lot. To compound matters, White House officials, following the example of their boss, often say misleading and false things.
But access is good!
Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, told the Erik Wemple Blog weeks ago, “The ongoing public undercutting and assault of the free press is really problematic. It’s troubling to me as a journalist and troubling to me as an American, but it’s something we have to do our jobs in the face of for now.”
Here’s Mills on that topic: “Obviously he enjoys having us around. I really believe despite his constant comments about ‘fake news’ and the media and so forth, I really feel he enjoys having us around because it helps drive his message,” said Mills. Yes: The president likes photos of himself, especially on magazine covers.