CNN Hires an Artist to Sketch White House Press Conference After Cameras Are Banned

Long before covering White House briefings, courtroom sketch artist William J. Hennessy Jr. documented the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

William J. Hennessy Jr., sketch of June 23 off-camera meeting between White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the press. Courtesy of William J. Hennessy Jr./CNN.
William J. Hennessy Jr., sketch of June 23 off-camera meeting between White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the press. Courtesy of William J. Hennessy Jr./CNN.

With the White House now routinely banning cameras at press briefings, CNN is getting creative. On June 23, the news network dispatched a veteran courtroom sketch artist William J. Hennessy, Jr. to capture the latest White House briefing in colored pencil. If the unusual move highlights the increasing restrictions on media under President Donald Trump, it also points up the unorthodox means news outlets are employing to subvert those limitations.

On-camera briefings from the White House press secretary have been the norm since the 1990s, but Trump’s administration has instead favored short, off-camera gaggles for many of its meetings. Frustration with this policy came to a head June 23, with Hennessy being called in to document the meeting after filming was banned for the third time that week.

Courtroom sketch artist William J. Hennessy Jr. Courtesy of Courtroom Art.

Courtroom sketch artist William J. Hennessy Jr. Courtesy of Courtroom Art.

According to CNN, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have only held four on-camera briefings this month. “Some days we’ll do it” on camera, Spicer told the press on June 23. “I think it’s great for us to come out here and have a substantive discussion about policies. I don’t think that the be all and end all is whether it’s on television or not.”

The White House has also been banning live audio broadcasts of its briefings, although news outlets have aired audio recordings following the conclusion of meetings.

“We are not satisfied with the current state-of-play, and we will work hard to change it,” countered Reuters reporter Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, in a statement, as reported by the Independent. “We believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government.”

Hennessy stood at the back of the room during the briefing and worked without an easel. The day before, he had been working for CNN at the Supreme Court.

Throughout his long career, Hennessy has illustrated a number of high-profile trials, including Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings and Guantanamo Bay detainee hearings.


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