Omarosa Manigault Newman is on the talk-show circuit this week to promote her forthcoming book, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, which promises salacious details about the administration’s inner workings. The biggest revelations so far have to do with three recordings: a rumored Apprentice-era tape of Donald Trump saying the N-word; a tape of chief of staff John Kelly firing Manigault Newman in the White House Situation Room, where recording devices are typically prohibited; and a recording of a phone call in which Trump claims he didn’t know she’d been fired.
Manigault Newman claims to have heard the N-word recording, though her book says she only heard about it from a few people in the know. The other two tapes are Manigault Newman’s own—she made them, and she’s been broadcasting them strategically in advance of her book’s Aug. 14 release date. She played the Kelly recording on Meet the Press on Saturday and the Trump recording on the Today show Monday morning, and anonymous White House officials told ABC News that they believe she has even more tapes, perhaps recorded with some kind of audio-capturing pen.
But even if Manigault Newman and her tapes say exactly what the president’s opponents want to hear—that he’s a racist, that he’s a bumbling idiot, that he has no control over his own White House—her “insider’s account” will never be as satisfying as the anti-Trump resistance might hope. The first problem is the source. Manigault Newman, like the president, is an opportunist built for and by reality television. Her willingness to do anything for notoriety, including but not limited to playing the villain on a corny game show and signing up for a role in a racist presidential administration, makes her an unreliable narrator.
The second problem is content. An N-word recording could serve as shorthand for Trump’s racism for those unwilling or unable to see the racism in his policies. And it would probably spur some Republican leaders to cut ties with Trump, at least temporarily, as they did when the Access Hollywood tape came out in October 2016. But there is reason to believe that an N-word tape wouldn’t torpedo Trump’s presidency, or even keep him from winning a second term. By this point, we shouldn’t need to hear Trump saying the N-word to become convinced that he considers black people second-class citizens. At the same time, no one who has supported him through his Obama birther fabrication, his insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty, and his defense of white supremacists as “very fine people” will turn against him because he used a racial slur.
This may be the one presidential administration (so far!) to render leaks and secret recordings almost entirely useless. Trump has no dignity to lose, and today’s White House has no positive reputation to sully. It would take a truly extraordinary story to convince us that Trump and his administration are worse than they appear from the outside. And for that story to have a meaningful impact, it would need to be delivered by someone other than a fame-obsessed huckster, an incompetent dummy, or a white supremacist sympathizer. That’s a requirement that works in Trump’s favor because, by definition, almost everyone willing to accept a position under Trump fits snugly under those umbrellas.
Such is the case with Manigault Newman, who isn’t doing herself any favors on the believability front. The ruthless, backstabbing persona she’s cultivated since her time on The Apprentice—a ratings-friendly character she embraced fully enough to title her first book The Bitch Switch—doesn’t inspire much trust. On Today, Manigault Newman interrupted host Savannah Guthrie several times to plug Unhinged in the tackiest possible way, once accusing Guthrie of not reading the book closely enough. After writing that she’d gotten only secondhand confirmation of the N-word recording, Manigault Newman began claiming over the weekend that she’d heard the tapes herself. Given that titillating new information, one would imagine that the publisher would have pushed for an addendum, or at least updated the e-book. It did not. One would also expect someone who’d heard the alleged tapes to be able to describe them in convincing detail, a threshold Manigault Newman was unable to clear on Today.
But whether Manigault Newman is lying or telling the truth feels beside the point. Her grievances and interests are personal, not political—she’s mad she was fired and sees the Trump tell-all route as a ticket to cultural relevance. Her accusation of racism is the loss leader she’s using to get news outlets into the front door of her personal store. Manigault Newman is now promising to release recordings she’s made of phone calls from Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, tapes that supposedly indicate that Javanka was sad that Manigault Newman got fired. They sound like they’ll mean far more to Manigault Newman than to anyone else. The best currency she has right now, which she’s cashing in all over the TV news circuit, is the N-word tape she claims to have heard despite having no ability to share it.
Manigault Newman’s self-promotional resistance-friendly media tour is not the first of the Trump era. Soon after the Wall Street Journal published the story that brought porn star Stormy Daniels national fame, she’d launched a tour she titled Making America Horny Again. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has similarly used the public’s distaste for Trump to boost what might end up being a run at the presidency. To be clear, Daniels and Avenatti both seem a few shades more honest than Manigault Newman. But it’s telling that the people who’ve told on Trump are shameless egotists and publicity hounds. The opportunist in the White House has attracted nothing but opportunists. It should be no surprise, then, that Manigault Newman isn’t a principled whistleblower. No one who’s willingly worked for Trump ever will be.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus