The White House, unfiltered
Lifting a photography ban on tours is a new policy to like — on Facebook or otherwise.
IN THE two weeks before Independence Day, the United States saw some major changes: Confederate battle flags furling where they had proudly flown, gay men and lesbian couples marrying where they had been barred and — in another watershed moment — tourists beginning to Instagram from inside the White House. The Obama administration’s choice to lift a 40-year-old ban on photography during public tours is a gift to the people that comes at no cost at all.
On Wednesday, first lady Michelle Obama announced the big moment for social media on, of course, social media. In an Instagram video, she tore up a sign displaying the now-abolished rule. Soon after, Facebook and Twitter feeds were flooded with posts hashtagged #WhiteHouseTour, some with pictures of smiling families alongside historic busts and portraits, others highlighting gold-trimmed furniture and ornate chandeliers, and many, many more featuring photogenic White House pooches Bo and Sunny.
The move showcases some political savvy on President Obama’s part. Critics who call out the administration for a lack of transparency, at least, are sure to take a hit: The chance to take photos during White House tours has a measurable — and tweetable — effect on civilian lives. White House visits are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for many Americans. And in an age when all experiences tend to make their way to the Web, allowing tour photos on social media matters. It recognizes how Americans communicate today.
Concerns over flash photography that inspired the ban seem antiquated today, when a silent and flashless photo is just a tap of the finger away. Worries about security— that someone, perhaps, could document the residence’s interior to find vulnerabilities — hold little weight when the White House is already so extensively photographed by administration photographers and party attendees. In fact, security measures at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. have increased in recent years. Background checks on visitors have tightened. Tourists can no longer stroll the alley between the Treasury Building and the White House. Just last week, sharp spikes appeared on the North Lawn’s security fence as what officials have called a “removable anti-climb feature.”
As these new barriers go up, it is nice to see an old wall between the people and their government come down. Let’s just hope they keep the ban on selfie sticks.