An NBC News investigation published Monday found that some news organizations indirectly paid first lady Melania Trump as much as $1 million total last year for family photos allowed only in positive stories.
According to President Donald Trump’s most recent financial disclosure, the first lady earned somewhere between $100,000 and $1 million in 2017 in royalties any time someone licensed one of nearly 200 photos of the first family shot by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux from 2010 to 2016.
Featured for sale on Getty Images through its paid Getty Contour platform, the highly stylized shots include Melania Trump playing tennis in a ballgown, wearing Chanel while floating on a swan at Mar-a-Lago and posing on the couch as her son photographs her. Each photo includes the stipulation that it is for use in “positive stories only” or sometimes just the line “positive stories” under the list of restrictions.
The collection also features several images of the president that also bear the “positive stories” stipulation, including ones of him adjusting his son Barron’s tie, taking a picture of himself and playing chess.
HuffPost photo editor Chris McGonigal said that the “positive” use requirement was rare but that it’s not unusual for a photographer and subject to wield more control over the Getty Contour collection.
“It’s something I’ve never come across before stated so specifically, but it’s not unusual to require photographer and publicist approval of photos from the Getty Contour collection,” he said. HuffPost has not purchased Trump family photos from this Getty Contour collection.
NBC News found that nearly a dozen organizations had paid to use the restricted photos of the Trump family in 2017 and thus made indirect payments to the Trump family.
That list includes NBC News itself, which says it “did not agree or sign a statement that the image would be used for positive coverage, and was never informed that a portion of the royalties would go to the Trump family,” according to a spokesperson. Also on the list are Yahoo News, which shares a parent company with HuffPost; Marie Claire; The Daily Mail; My San Antonio; Houston Chronicle; House Beautiful; and SF Gate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.
When contacted for NBC News’ investigation, several of those outlets removed the photos from their sites and said they weren’t aware of the photos’ usage requirements. While Getty Images said that any information about royalties paid to the first lady is private under confidentiality agreements, press photographers and media experts say such an agreement with a political figure is unusual.
The first lady’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Chris McGonigal contributed reporting.