That's an official, Obama-administration-approved picture, one of an endless stream of photos released via the official White House feed. Increasingly, sanctioned photos of Obama are all the public is seeing because the guy who pledged the most transparent administration ever is maintaining unprecedented control over independent snapshots of his activities.
Andrew Malcolm, a former press flack for First Lady Laura Bush now writing for Investor's Business Daily, notes that Obama even banned photographers accompanying him on his flight to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral from taking pictures of the president with George W. Bush (widely circulated photos of the pair onboard Air Force One were offical photos). Yet, says Malcolm, social media sites allow for a steady drip, drip, drip of supposedly behind-the-scenes images that promise access but really only "allow Obama to claim a kind of public transparency, giving individuals sanitized access to hidden moments with what are, in effect, mere photo news releases."
Malcolm is following up on a complaint voiced by the AP's director of photography, Santiago Lyon, who argued in the New York Times,
The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you'd expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.
By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism. Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue.
One can argue whether such actions constitute "Orwellian image control," as Lyon believes, but there's no question that Team Obama's maniac attempts to keep control of the narrative is unsettling. And generally ineffective, if recent polls are any indication. Indeed, energy spent trying to keep tabs on who has access to take pictures of or write about the president drains resources away from actually addressing problems and policy screwups. Insularity tends to create defensiveness, which makes it all the more difficult to deal with, say, disastrous rollouts of healthcare.gov.
Speaking of transparency, take 50 seconds to watch this 2010 Reason TV gem about the "Real World: DC," which covers what happens when when Congress stops being polite…and starts secret, detailed negotiations on a sweeping, transformative health care reform bill…