First lady Melania Trump has been secretly charging news organizations money and demanding “positive stories only,” and the San Francisco Chronicle is one of the newspapers that’s been unintentionally paying into this agreement. NBC News has a bombshell report that news organizations paid between $100,000 and $1 million to the Trumps for an exclusive batch of photos in 2017.
By all accounts, neither the Chronicle nor SFGate realized they were a party to this arrangement. These royalty terms were negotiated by Getty Images, a newswire photo agency to which the Chronicle and SFGate subscribe.
The photos in question were taken by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux between 2010 and 2016, and are licensed through Getty Images. The images continued to appear in pro-Trump fluff stories on various other news outlets throughout 2017. NBC News even busted themselves paying the Trump family for use of the photos.
“NBC News found at least a dozen organizations that had paid to use Mahaux’s restricted images of the Trumps in 2017, resulting in indirect payment to the first family,” the network reports. “Yahoo News, NBC News, Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, My San Antonio, Houston Chronicle, House Beautiful, and SF Gate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle, are among those that have featured Mahaux’s highly stylized family portraits since Trump took office.”
The Chronicle removed the images from its website and SFGate upon learning of the arrangement.
“The San Francisco Chronicle deleted the images from its website as well, and said it was looking into how they came to be used,” NBC News says.
You’ve seen the work of this Belgian photographer before — at the top of this post. Regine Mahaux was hired to shoot Melania Trump’s official White House portrait, seen above, and is an active celebrity portrait photographer.
SF Weekly can confirm that as of Tuesday afternoon, none of Mahaux’s photos taken during the period in question remain on the Chronicle’s websites SFChronicle.com or SFGate.com.
On the Trump corruption continuum, this is fairly small potatoes. But the fact that so many reputable news organizations — whether they knew it or not — were paying money as part of a “positive stories only” deal is a real problem in the fake news era.
SF Weekly has updated this story with additional information on photographer Regine Mahaux.