Sunday, December 28, 2014

Michelle Obama Security Breach (?)

Security breach at the National Constitution Center

Michelle Obama Security Breach (?)

Because I asked, I was at the National Constitution Center five hours before first lady Michelle Obama yesterday morning. It's a story that's longer than it has to be…

The White House media advisory said equipment must be in the hall for a security sweep by 11:30 a.m. That usually means only large television camera and tripods. Smaller still cameras and camera bags are usually screened - along with reporter's laptops - when the the press arrives and is metal-wanded a few hours later, closer to the start of the event. But since the email advisory went to my editor, he was concerned I not risk getting locked out.  So I double-checked with the White House logistics staffer - even laptops and small cameras?  "Yes," she emailed me, "all equipment has to be inside the hall 4-1/2 hours early.

And that's how I ended up photographing the TelePrompter technician cleaning and adjusting the screens on stage.

It's also how I ended up with a (different) young White House staffer coming to tell me, "the Secret Service says you have to delete all the pictures you took of them."

They were also there in the hall five hours early, on the stage going over their plans (I guess). I wasn't taking their picture (the TelePrompter guy was more interesting) but (I guess) they saw me looking in their direction, and sent the staffer over to tell me I was breaching security...

A few years ago, working just down the street from this museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution I was now standing inside, I thought it was ironic when I was told by a Justice Department Protective Service guard that it was "against the law since 9-11" for me to photograph the Federal Building (he was wrong, of course). I could photograph a defendant leaving federal court, but had to point my camera away from the building(?). Now here I was, in the actual building that is dedicated to our Bill of Rights, standing under a humongous American flag, when another government law enforcement official is telling me I can't take pictures.

The Obama staffer wanted to see the photos I shot and repeated the Secret Service agent's request I delete their photos. I politely declined. I was very nice about it, and she didn't know what do say or do next.

Nothing happened, as it was time to leave the building anyway for the security sweep. Neither she (nor the agent who dispatched her) followed up later when I returned two hours later - along with ALL the rest of the still photographers and reporters and their laptops and small cameras.

Click here, or on the photos to see a gallery of photos from Michelle Obama's brief visit to the National Constitution Center billed as a rally to inspire and thank grassroots supporters.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at tgralish@phillynews.com.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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