Biden staff apologizes after reporter forced to delete photos

Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks about reducing domestic violence, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building in Rockville, Md.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

In the latest squabble between Vice President Joe Biden and the press, the vice president's office this week ended up apologizing to a student reporter who was forced to delete pictures taken at a public event.

Jeremy Barr, a student reporter from the University of Maryland, College Park, snapped a few pictures of the vice president on Wednesday, at a Maryland event where Biden unveiled a new domestic violence initiative. Barr, however, was mistakenly sitting in an area designated for the public, not the press.

After the event, a staffer demanded Barr delete the photos on his camera in front of her, Barr told Capital News Service, the university news outlet. The staffer reportedly told Barr he had an "unfair advantage" over the other media because of his spot in the non-press section of the audience.

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, filed a letter of complaint with the vice president's office, noting that the staffer's demands "not only violated fundamental tenets of freedom of press freedom, but directly violated the law set forth in the Privacy Protection Act."

"Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected," she added.

Dalglish told Capital News Service that Biden's press secretary Kendra Barkoff promptly called her, as well as Barr, to apologize to each of them separately. Barkoff reportedly told Dalglish the incident was a "total miscommunication."

"It is our policy that all of our open press events are open press even if a reporter is not in the designated press area," Barkoff said in a statement to CBS News. "This was an unfortunate mistake by a staffer who does not regularly interact with the press. Once we learned about it I immediately apologized to the Dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, the reporter involved and to the newspaper. It will never happen again."

This isn't the first time Biden's staff has clashed with reporters. On the campaign trail last year, for instance -- after an event at which Biden made some controversial remarks -- the vice president's aides reportedly tried to edit pool reports of the event to cast Biden's appearance in a more flattering light. In 2011, Biden's staff apologized after making a reporter sit in a storage room before a fundraising event.

While Biden's staff has sought to carefully curate the vice president's image, it's also embraced Biden's forthright communications style, which can be appealing but also politically risky. The White House today, for instance, launched an audio series called Being Biden, in which the vice president will tell the story behind a photo.

"From meetings at the White House to travels around the country, the Vice President will share his perspective in candid, behind-the-scenes snapshots," the White House said in its description of the podcast. "In other words, he'll explain what it's like 'Being Biden.'"