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Obama tries to have it both ways with media

Press banned from photographing Sasha and Malia at the White House

A free press is all well and good, but not when it comes to the children of President Barack Obama, who has introduced unprecedented rules about which pictures we see of Sasha, eight, and Malia, 10, and which ones we don't.

It was several weeks ago, for instance, when photographers on the White House grounds captured the President waving extravagantly at Sasha standing on the Truman Balcony. Great pictures, to be sure, but the press office instantly requested that news agencies not distribute them.

The Obamas are confronting the same dilemma that faced many first families before them. Nothing endears a nation to its leader more than family snapshots. Even Abraham Lincoln acquiesced to a portrait with his son Tad, eight, at a small table. Few photographs are more beloved than the one of JFK Jr and Caroline playing in the Oval Office. On the other hand, the President and the First Lady want to protect the girls from prying paparazzi.

Thus, all credentialed photographers have been told that the girls are fair game only when they are at formal events. Otherwise, prying lenses should stay away, even when they are on the White House grounds.

To reduce the market for paparazzi shots, the White House puts out photos taken by its own photographer. But these are posted only in low resolution. Editors who want to use them have to ask for a high resolution version and it is up to spokesman Robert Gibbs to grant or deny those requests.

If Mr Obama wants to protect the children from being exploited by a voracious modern-day media, he may find himself treading close to being accused of exploiting them himself, with such a controlled drip-drip of images designed to extract maximum political advantage at the lowest parental cost.

"He's going to try to have it both ways until and unless people start to question his value system and his sincerity in playing that role," notes Gerald Shuster, a political communications expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

The girls, meanwhile, may be discovering the downside of having to stay clear of the paparazzi, having to think twice, for example, before venturing even as far as their climbing frame.

The President whose name is attached to the Truman balcony brought his daughter to Washington, but Margaret Truman loathed the bubble-life she found herself living thanks to her father, Harry, and famously called the executive mansion the Great White Jail.