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White House Restricts Press Corps' Access During Trump's Visits To El Paso And Dayton


President Trump spent yesterday visiting with people affected by the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. But if you wanted to see pictures of what it was like when he stopped by hospitals in each of those cities, you had to rely on the White House because the traveling press wasn't allowed to photograph those meetings. And yet the White House released its own video chronicling the visit...


CORNISH: ...With music and images of the president shaking hands and taking selfies with what appeared to be hospital staff. New York Times photographer Doug Mills serves on the board of the White House Correspondents Association. He's covered the last six presidents. Mills, who was on that trip yesterday, says the press is essential to getting a full picture of what happened.

DOUG MILLS: I really believe - if we don't know what's going on in the room, and we don't get to see what's happening from a journalistic view, the reporters don't get to see it, the photographers don't get to see it, television doesn't get to see it - then they control the narrative. And so the only thing that we really were able to witness and photograph were the arrivals at the airport yesterday, when the Dayton mayor was there, the governor was there, and there were other members of Congress there.

When the president walked off Air Force One, they walked three White House staffers out in front of us to basically try and block us. And we realized then that they were trying to obscure our view of them meeting with these local politicians who have been very critical of the president. So then we went to the hospital. Then we see some protesters, so that's the only thing we could take pictures of in the motorcade. We get - and we have no visuals of anything inside the hospital. And then when we leave, we see more protesters.

So that's pretty much all I could put out as far as photos were concerned because I had nothing really to represent what they were saying was actually happening.

CORNISH: So in a way, the attempt to control the narrative, it doesn't always work, right? I mean, in the end, there was another narrative; maybe not the one they intended.

MILLS: I could not agree more, yes.

CORNISH: You know, why should the average American care if The New York Times misses out on a photo op?

MILLS: Because I think the people who subscribe to The New York Times or any other news organization - whether it's NPR or whether it's CNN, whether it's The Washington Post; anybody who they are paying to get real journalism from - should be able to see exactly what happens and know exactly what happened in the room, and it's not filtered.

The word propaganda is a strong word. I used it years ago during the Obama administration with the press secretary then, Jay Carney, and was completely hammered for it. But it is. I mean, that video is definitely like a campaign-style video. Not really with a lot of feeling in it, you know, about the magnitude of the event that we went to. And I think they missed their mark on that yesterday.

CORNISH: You mentioned the Obama administration. You're referring to moments when they set up their own social media page to release their own photos of events, right?

MILLS: Yes, yes.

CORNISH: So is this part of a broader trend of administrations just trying to have more control over the narrative of various events by having their own imagery?

MILLS: It's all about, you know, the imagery and being out on social media with a early and visual representation of whatever they want. And it drives, as you know, social media - once it's on there, it goes. And when they can start the narrative of it being one way or the other, there's - you know, it's hard to turn it back. So I think it's really important to people who look at Twitter, who look at Instagram, who look at all those social media platforms that are out there, that they're getting unfiltered material, and it's not something that is driven by a one-sided view.

CORNISH: Doug Mills is a photographer. He covers the White House for The New York Times.

Thank you for speaking with us.

MILLS: I'm happy to do it. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NATIONAL SONG, "EMPIRE LINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.