Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the reality TV star who has become an aide to President Donald Trump, received a chilly reception Friday at this year’s National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans.
As prominent black journalists and public relations professionals watched, Manigault-Newman, on a panel about police violence, was asked about her role in the Trump administration, and what she has done for the black community.
“I fight on the front lines every day,” Manigault-Newman said, provoking laughter and groans from the audience. Some in the crowd, including journalist Jamilah Lemieux and activist Britanny Packnett, reportedly turned their backs in protest as Manigault-Newman spoke.
Panel moderator Ed Gordon, host of BET’s “Weekly,” asked Manigault-Newman how Trump’s recent comments supporting police brutality fit with police violence in the black community, including the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Manigault-Newman, a former star on “The Apprentice” who’s now director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, said she disagreed with Trump’s comments. “I don’t think a black boy should be treated the way Freddie Gray was,” she added.
“First of all,” began fellow panelist Arthur Reed, an author, “Freddie Gray was a black man, not a boy. You see that type of mentality, and that’s what’s wrong with this whole situation right now ― too many of y’all looking at us as boys. We grown-ass men. And when you see this type of thing, you have to stand up and let them know, like I understand perfectly that there’s just some black people that’s just not black. I understand that.”
“Is she engaged in policy-level discussions, not just with President Trump, but with Jeff Sessions?” panelist Joel Anderson of BuzzFeed asked. “Because that’s where a lot of directives come from, where a lot of law enforcement ... That’s where the tone is set across the country.”
Instead of answering, Manigault-Newman urged the audience to get out their phones.
“Google ‘Omarosa and Eric Garner,’” she said. “You’ll see my recent work with the Department of Justice.”
“Well you’re right here, why don’t you tell us?” Gordon shot back.
Garner was placed in a fatal chokehold by a New York City police officer for selling individual cigarettes. Video shows him gasping “I can’t breathe,” 11 times. The Google search brought up a reference to a meeting Manigault-Newman had with Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, in March.
Relatives of other people victimized by police violence ― the mother of Philando Castile, and the aunt of Alton Sterling ― had spoken on the stage in a separate panel just before Manigault-Newman arrived.
Manigault-Newman got out of her seat and paced the stage at one point, engaging in repeated back-and-forths with other panelists. Finally, Gordon seemed to have had enough.
“We have reached the point of diminished returns,” the moderator announced.
Minutes later, when NABJ President Sarah Glover tried to explain why Manigault-Newman had been invited in the first place, the reality show star appeared to blow a kiss to someone in the audience. Then she got up and left the stage without saying anything further.
“It would be foolhardy to assume that anyone would come here or that any journalist worth his salt or her salt would sit here and not ask certain questions,” Gordon told the audience.
New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones had been scheduled to host the panel. But she and a fellow panelist, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, pulled out after Manigault-Newman was added.
Cobb told Page Six his reason for backing out “wasn’t simply the addition of Omarosa. It was that she was added at the 11th hour and it was unclear whether we would be able to discuss substantive issues regarding the administration and its policing policies. Also, the panel was very disorganized, and basic things like format were not clear.”
Cobb and journalists in attendance tweeted about Manigault-Newman’s participation.
Manigault-Newman responded to the Twitter controversy the panel generated with a tweet of her on Saturday afternoon, posting a series of hashtags saying she was “set up” from the start.