Trump and the White House Photographer

Grifting, all the way down.

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.

Via the NYT: She Took the White House Photos. Trump Moved to Take the Profit.

As President Donald J. Trump’s tenure came to an end, the chief White House photographer, who had traveled the world with him and spent countless hours inside the White House snapping pictures, notified Mr. Trump’s aides that she intended to publish a book collecting some of her most memorable images.

This was hardly a radical idea: Official photographers from every White House since President Ronald Reagan‘s have published their own books. Barack Obama and George W. Bush were so supportive that they wrote forewords for them.

But like so much else involving Mr. Trump, the plan by his chief photographer, Shealah Craighead, did not follow this bipartisan norm.


in dealing with Ms. Craighead, Mr. Trump appears to have become the first former president to try to make money from a book planned by a former White House photographer, said John Bredar, a documentary filmmaker and author who has studied the history of the White House photographers.


aides to Mr. Trump asked her for a cut of her book advance payment, in exchange for his writing a foreword and helping promote the book, according to former associates of Mr. Trump.

Then Mr. Trump’s team asked Ms. Craighead to hold off on her book project to allow the former president to take Ms. Craighead’s photos and those of other White House staff photographers and publish his own book, which is now selling for as much as $230 a copy.

It is worth nothing that that book deal Ms. Craighead would have gotten would have been worth, according to the piece, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is unclear as to whether she would have kept the proceeds, as at least one previous photographer donated theirs.

Regardless, it was all pure class from Team Trump:

Since leaving office, Mr. Trump has sought multiple ways to monetize his presidency, from charging supporters to attend an event and take photos with him to selling MAGA merchandise. He also has a long history of disputes from before his political career with business partners and over the years faced regular accusations that he did not properly compensate contractors.

The plan to publish “Our Journey Together” came together quickly, after Ms. Craighead had already selected a book agent and negotiated a contract to publish her own book and secured a commitment from Mr. Trump to write the foreword, former White House officials said.

No doubt I have a soft spot in my heart for photographers, but this just is all so petty and crass (yes, I know).

The book is not the only way that the Trump family is cashing in on photos by White House photographers. On Presidents’ Day, Mrs. Trump opened sales of a series of digital images from Mr. Trump’s White House tenure — photos of Mr. Trump at Mount Rushmore, exiting Air Force One and in a tuxedo for a White House dinner — for $50 a piece.

It should be noted that by federal law the photos are in the public domain, so legally Trump is on solid ground here (for a change).

FILED UNDER: Photography, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kathy says:

    I’m sorry but I need to point out Ms. Craighead made a very bad mistake. She “..secured a commitment from Mr. Trump to write the foreword.” That’s truly terrible business sense.

    Cut out the middleman and secure a commitment from the ghost writer directly.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It should be noted that by federal law the photos are in the public domain, so legally Trump is on solid ground here (for a change).

    I’d still say “F you.”

    But then I’m a DEM, what else would you expect?

  3. CSK says:

    Trump is the kind of person who chooses to believe that if a person takes a photo of him, it’s his photo. He owns it, literally.

    The Former Guy loves, loves, loves punching way, way down. Nothing gives him as much pleasure as cheating people who have no recourse. To him, that’s a triumph.

    Remember when he said that he relished suing writers, because “it costs me a few dollars and bankrupts them.”

  4. Kathy says:


    I can kind of imagine the late Rodney Dangerfield doing his usual act, but substituting the terms “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” etc. with “my pal Donnie” where appropriate.

    The following wasn’t in his act, but imagine Rodney doing it:

    I went to see the bottomless pit at the carnival. I go in and there’s my pal Donnie sitting on a chair alone in the room.

    Now this adapted from his act:

    My pal Donnie agreed with his wife they’d some only after sex. After a month Donnie’s pack is nearly full, and his wife has smoked three cartons.

  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    As a reformed professional photographer this may piss me off more than anything else Trump has done.
    I know nothing about the contractural arrangement, and haven’t been able to find it.
    But I suspect Trump has fuqed this woman like he has fuqed so many people who have done work for him before.
    Have you ever worked with someone who took credit for your work? There’s a special place in hell for those who profit off others hard work, because there is no lower form of human.

  6. @Daryl and his brother Darryl: The whole thing is gross, to be sure.

    Contractually, the photos are 100% in the public domain, so use itself is not the issue.

  7. Scott F. says:

    I tell myself I can’t hate that man more, then a story like this comes out and I am surprised. I CAN hate him more.

    I could be OK with that. But then I remember that they love him at least in part because people like me hate him so much. And don’t want to give Trumpkins the pleasure.

  8. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If this applies to all the photos taken at the White House by Ms. Craighead, there may be something she can profit from.

    Surely there are a photographic equivalent of bloopers. Photos where Benito is shown in a most unflattering way, where he looks stupid, lost, crazed, etc.

    If use is not a problem, make a book out of those. The market for that ought to be larger, too, and there won’t be a shortage of people willing to write a foreword.

  9. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Must be a special feature that photos of Presidents are p.d. Normally, the photographer owns the copyright to their photos*. But of course FOG would respond in the most petty and crass way imaginable.

    *Of course, I’d never be vetted for shooting VIPs, even with a Canon.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite: Craighead was a public employee, taking the photos as her official job function. The public owns the photos and anyone—including both Craighead and Trump—are free to use them as they see fit.

  11. Jen says:

    The shaking her down for a cut of her advance just to write a forward is gross. Asking a public employee who probably doesn’t make much to hold her release so that he can get the first cut is gross.

    He is a terrible person and we keep learning that over and over and over.

  12. wr says:

    @CSK: “Trump is the kind of person who chooses to believe that if a person takes a photo of him, it’s his photo. He owns it, literally.”

    I think beyond that, Trump is the kind of person who chooses to believe that whenever he wants something, it’s his. He owns it, literally.

  13. wr says:

    @Kathy: “If use is not a problem, make a book out of those.”

    She’s said that she had mixed feelings about doing the book in the first place — she didn’t want to be tagged as either pro or anti-Trump. I think this would put her definitely in one camp…

  14. CSK says:

    @Jen: @wr:
    I seem to recall Tony Schwartz, the author of The Art of the Deal, saying that Trump allowed the publisher to pay about $250,000 (then an enormous fee) to Schwartz for the ghosting job. All Trump really cared about was seeing his name is gold letters on the cover, in bigger typeface than the title.

    I suspect that back then, Trump, never having bought, much less read, a book in his life had no idea of the money that could be involved. I also suspect that being billed as an actual “author” meant more to him than the advance.

  15. Jen says:

    Honestly, the photographer should instead target the non-Trump market and publish a book of all of the most unflattering photos that he rejected.

    As far as this story goes, the fact that he spent time on AF1 sifting through printed copies of pictures of himself to approve or reject irritates TF out of me. One would think the President had better ways to use his time but maybe given who it was, thank heaven for small favors that it distracted him from f*&^ing something else up, I guess.

  16. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @James Joyner:
    Thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t aware this was an actual employee relationship. Thankfully I’d never pass the Secret Service screening for the gig.

  17. Kathy says:


    The president does have better things to do with his time.

    Benito does not.

  18. Kathy says:


    Just a WH blooper reel equivalent. Everyone loves bloopers.

    I’m not suggesting tear away pages for photos of Benito with an overlay dartboard of suitable size to be marketed to bars adn shooting ranges, though I can’t figure out why I’m not.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    Looks like Kathy’s idea above has been suggested by not a few people…