How Trump Ripped Off the White House Photographer

Shealah Craighead taking President Trump’s picture in January 2017. Photo: AP/Shutterstock

Shealah Craighead had a pretty good book deal lined up. The chief White House photographer during the Trump years, she was reportedly expecting a six-figure advance for a compendium of her pictures documenting the celebrity president and the comings and goings of the most tumultuous administration in history. But then Trump and his aides got an idea.

According to the New York Times, Trump advisers asked for a piece of the advance in exchange for promoting the book and writing a foreword — which past presidents have done on similar projects as a favor. Then Trump’s aides got more ambitious, requesting that Craighead wait to publish so they could first use her photos as part of their own book, which reportedly came with an advance in the millions.

Published in December, Our Journey Together includes no photo credits. It was put out by Winning Team Publishing, a company incorporated in October 2021 and co-founded by Donald Trump Jr. His co-founder, Sergio Gor, told the Times the book sold out its first printing of 300,000, suggesting potential gross sales of $20 million. Another aide cited Trump’s “eye for beautiful and engaging curation” as the reason for the book’s success.

So the president who made a career out of ripping off contractors effectively forced Craighead to scrap her book plans. As she tried to figure out how to move forward, a Trump representative reportedly told her he could no longer write the promised foreword, citing a noncompete clause with his publisher and son.

Trump’s reported actions here are not illegal: Craighead’s work documenting the White House is in the public domain according to federal law and is not protected by copyright. But it’s certainly very “him”: a legal, unethical money grab at the expense of someone around him who actually did the work. “It’s a slap in the face,” Eric Draper, the chief photographer of the second Bush White House, told the Times. “I would be disappointed if I were in her shoes.”

As Trump’s latest moneymaking scheme becomes public knowledge, Craighead is trying to remain above the fray. “I stay apolitical as possible, as I am a neutral historical documentarian,” she told the paper. “By staying neutral, I am able to remain a keen observer.” For his part, a Trump spokesperson told the Times that Trump tried to make amends this week after reporters began asking about the book, calling Craighead and telling her he would be willing to write that foreword after all if she decides to put together a book. “It would be fun to do so,” he said.

How Trump Ripped Off the White House Photographer