The White House, un­fil­tered

Lift­ing a pho­tog­ra­phy ban on tours is a new pol­icy to like — on Face­book or oth­er­wise.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

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.

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