Meet Doug Mills, the New York Times photographer Trump calls "a genius"

Meet the NYT photog Trump calls "a genius"
Meet the NYT photog Trump calls "a genius" 06:05

President Trump has made insulting the media a centerpiece of his presidency, but there is at least one member of the press corps who has earned universal praise for his work: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Doug Mills. He's captured iconic images of Mr. Trump that tell the story of his White House tenure and literally personifies what the president likes and dislikes.

From Ronald Reagan to Mr. Trump, and everyone between, Mills has made the White House his photographic home. His lens overflows with portraits of presidential power and prestige.

"Have you ever photographed a president as image-conscious as Donald Trump?" Garrett asked Mills.

"Never. Barack Obama was the most photogenic," Mills responded. "By far, by far, Donald Trump is the most iconic."

Mr. Trump wears the number 45 on his cuffs. His emotions can often be found there, too.

"His emotions are right out there," Mills said. "The most amazing photo op I've ever been in in the Oval Office was with the president of the United States, with Nancy Pelosi and Chucker Schumer."

The meeting last December between the Democratic leaders and Mr. Trump spiraled into what Schumer called a Mr. Trump "temper tantrum," as they argued about border wall funding with a looming government shutdown. 

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump  Doug Mills/The New York Times

"I felt uncomfortable because I thought any moment we should just leave this conversation. Yet that's part of Donald Trump," Mills said.

While running for president, Mr. Trump directed many of his own scenes, such as when he told CBS News videographer Tony Furlow where to stand while shooting an interview. "Get back a little, Tony, will you please?" Mr. Trump asked.

Mills said he "absolutely" develops a relationship with each president he photographs. "I feel like I've gotten to know them. They know who I am," he said. "I go in there with an apolitical mind."

Mr. Trump's relationship with Mills pulled him into the vortex of a G-7 economic conference. "He's a genius," Mr. Trump said of Mills. "Unfortunately, he works for the New York Times." 

At the second nuclear summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Mr. Trump told Mills, "Make us look very good."

Mills said being called out in from of Kim made him feel "uncomfortable."

Worse is the president's relentless attacks on the "failing" New York Times where Mills has worked since 2002. "The newspaper's going to hell," Mr. Trump has said.

"When he attacks us during a rally, it's uncomfortable. It disappoints me. I wish he didn't do it," Mills said.

At the White House, elbow room for reporters and photographers is limited. Mill's philosophy is to keep one eye on the president and one eye on everyone else.

"The president may be the most important person in the room today, but there's somebody sitting along the wall or somebody in the background who's gonna be really important in a couple days," he said.

"So capture the day, but archive the moment," Garrett said.

"Yes, because moments at the White House live forever," Mills said.

After four decades and two Pulitzer Prizes, Mills has developed a reputation as one of Washington's top news photographers. Around the White House, he's the dean.

"Every assignment that I go into I'm trying to be creative," Mills said. He showed us how he got creative with former FBI Director James Comey, who was in the eye of another political hurricane, lifting his lens high above the lashing partisan winds. We returned with Mills to the Senate hearing room to learn what it takes to go from concept to creation.

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Former FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill, Thursday June 8, 2017 Doug Mills/The New York Times

"I went out and scoped out where he was gonna be sitting in the desk. I pre-focused," Mills said. He blocked the scene like as if he were a director. Mills staked out the spot where he would eventually make the photograph, waiting for 45 minutes.

"I basically extend the monopod out," Mills said. "Once I got where I wanted, I just started firing."

From above, Mills' photo told a story of silent anticipation.

"I just really feel like it really captures the moment of the room," he said.

Another moment was the president's first State of the Union with the House of Representatives under new management, Nancy Pelosi.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gestures a clap towards President Donald Trump during his State of the Union speech in the House Chamber, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.  Doug Mills/The New York Times

"That says it all as far as the power play in Washington," Mills said.

Lately, Mills has been chasing the photographic dimensions of impeachment, documenting the angry players and faces of anguished history.

Mills would say he is unworthy of this attention, that the president and presidency is always the news. That's true every other day of his professional life – except today.