Trump's White House Photographer Planned A Book, But Donald Wanted A Piece Of The Action
Donald Trump's sad attempt at re-creating Pete Souza bin Laden raid photo. Shealah Craighead, Trump White House Archive, 2019.

The New York Times brings us yet another reminder that nothing, absolutely nothing, was ever normal in the Trump administration. Apart from the shakedown schemes in foreign policy and the blithe indifference to mere federal law, there was always the grift, the reflexive money-grubbing at every opportunity. As the Times reports, that extended even into Trump's treatment of his chief White House photographer, Shealah Craighead.

Near the end of Trump's time in office, Craighead let Trump's people know she planned to put together a book of her work covering Trump, something that White House photographers have been doing since the Reagan years. Maybe the "president" could write a brief foreword for the book? The word came back that sure, he'd be glad to — but only if Craighead would give him a cut of her advance from the publisher.

Ah, but that was just the start. Apparently the idea of a nice coffee-table book of White House photos really appealed to Trump, so shortly afterward,

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.

After all, since they're all produced at taxpayer expense, White House photos aren't copyrighted by the photographers; they're automatically in the public domain, so Craighead couldn't very well complain.

Trump would no doubt say she was a sucker for agreeing to a deal like that in the first place.

Hilariously, when the Times requested comment from Trumpland, Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich explained it was all perfectly fine — he didn't even dispute that Trump had wanted a cut of the advance in exchange for writing a foreword. Most importantly, Budowich emphasized that Trump's book was way better and classier than anything that peon photographer could have come up with:

Instead, Mr. Budowich said, Mr. Trump decided to first do his own book, a separate deal that came with a much bigger, multimillion-dollar advance.

“President Trump has always had an eye for beautiful and engaging curation, which came alive through the pages of his book,” he said in a statement.

And just to make sure nobody got any big ideas about taking the emphasis off the Great Man, the book itself, titled Our Journey Together, doesn't bother with trivialities like photo credits, because who cares anyway? Craighead's name appears only on the last page of the book, although the bulk of the photos were taken by her. She should be very grateful that the book thanks the unimportant nobodies who took the pictures, and even graciously calls them "all the phenomenal White House photographers,” so shut up, there's your name in a list there.

Mind you, Craighead herself wasn't about to criticize Trump; instead, she told the Times she didn't want to comment on any former client, although she also has decided to drop her own plans for a book, at least for the time being.

“I stay apolitical as possible, as I am a neutral historical documentarian,” she said. “By staying neutral I am able to remain a keen observer.”

Translation: Please let me move on from that shitshow with at least some shreds of my dignity.

The Times notes that while previous presidents have used White House photographers' work in their own memoirs, Trump "appears to have become the first former president to try to make money from a book planned by a former White House photographer," according to documentarian John Bredar, who knows stuff about the White House photography game.

Pete Souza, Obama White House Archive

We also learn that while most previous White House photographers had cordial relationships with presidents — think of Pete Souza's skill at capturing Barack Obama's basic decency and occasional goofiness — Craighead only got the job after Trump's first pick "fell through," which we'll assume means the photographer knew how Trump treats anyone working for him and noped out.

And instead of having most White House photographers' full access, Craighead was very much treated as a flunky. These are just about the saddest, most infuriating two paragraphs in the Times story:

Mr. Trump at times would say insulting things about Ms. Craighead, telling other White House guests that he questioned her skills as a photographer, surprising other White House officials and photographers present.

Mr. Trump, former White House aides said, was intensely involved in selecting photos of himself that would be released to the public, with [former press secretary Stephanie] Grisham recalling how during long flights on Air Force One, he often set aside time to review folders of photographs, after demanding that they be first printed so he could hold them, and pick winners one at a time.

Honestly, Ms. Craighead should probably just thank her lucky stars that, as an employee of the White House, she actually got paid, which is more than a lot of people who've worked for Trump can say.

Read More: Deadbeat Donald Trump: A Cheap Sociopath Who Doesn't Pay His Bills, Bet You Didn't See That Coming

Also too, the story notes that, after the Times contacted Mar-a-Gulago for comment on the photo book, Trump very generously called Craighead for the first time since he left office.

Mr. Trump told her he was still prepared to write a foreword for a photo book they could do together in the future, Mr. Budowich said.

“It would be fun to do so,” Mr. Trump told her.

The Times didn't report whether Trump also offered to let Craighead keep a small cut of the profits from any such venture.

[NYT / Photo: Shealah Craighead, Trump White House Archive on Flickr]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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