Drama Erupts Over Abrupt Firing of Veteran White House Photographer

The White House

Veteran White House photographer Jonathan Ernst was fired from his nearly 20-year role as a freelance and staff photographer at Reuters over what the publication is calling “gross neglect of duty.”

The event that led to his dismissal took place on the evening of October 19, Politico reports, when Ernst got into what is described as a heated disagreement with White House press aides. The veteran photographer allegedly displayed “inappropriate behavior” after he was asked to leave the Oval Office ahead of president Joe Biden’s prime-time national address.

It is not clear why he was initially asked to leave, but as the only photographer on duty that day, he pushed back on the request to leave because not only did he already set up his equipment, the request was apparently unusual. The group of television camera operators were not being asked to leave and while he could theoretically have operated his camera remotely, he expressed concern over the safety of his equipment given how packed the room was.

By the description of events, Ernst appears to have left the room but during that time got into a loud, heated verbal altercation with multiple White House aides. He was, eventually, let back into the room.

It was thought that the situation was resolved, and Ernst even brought the aides homemade cookies the following day as a sort of peace offering. However, Reuters editors reportedly reached out to the White House to ask about details of his behavior. Following a multi-week investigation in conjunction with the White House, Reuters elected to dismiss Ernst. The publication did not share the full findings of the report with Ernst or the Reuters Union.

Tim McLaughlin, the Reuters Guild chair, wrote a letter to the CEO of Reuters demanding that they rescind Ernst’s termination. In it, McLaughlin says Ernst did not threaten anyone or use inappropriate language. If true, it’s not clear what it is he did that was grounds for termination as it is not unusual for members of the White House press corps to push back given the high-stress nature of the job.

Ernst apparently has a bit of a reputation for having a short fuse when it comes to his anger and there is little doubt he may have overreacted.

“On most days I would give my right arm to be in the middle of the day’s biggest news or sports story,” Ernst has said of himself, adding credence to the belief that he would have become agitated if anyone were to have gotten in the way of his job.

However, given the secrecy of the investigation, some other members of the press corps tell Politico that Ernst had made enemies of some of the higher-ups at Reuters who were already looking at ways to “get rid of him.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.