12:22pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: Please Stop Taking 'Celebrity Big Brother' Contestant Omarosa Seriously
Reality TV, like history, repeats itself. First as tragedy. Then as farce. Or maybe it's the other way around. The only constant is Omarosa.
For the past week, a strange and sad thing has occurred where seasoned political reporters and entertainment reporters alike have been forced to glue their eyeballs to the live feeds for Celebrity Big Brother because of the annoying possibility that reality TV retread and discarded Trump Administration castaway Omarosa Manigault-Newman might say something controversial and therefore meaningful — which is not the same as saying something substantive and therefore meaningful, because we know with reasonable certainty that that's not going to happen — about her former boss in the White House.
CBS' Big Brother is trash, but it's sometimes wildly entertaining garbage provided you don't dig too deeply and find out which of your favorite contestants, which of the contestants most aggressively embraced by the network, have said which repugnant things during that cesspool of time-wasting known as the live feeds.
It's fine to be obsessed with Big Brother, but one thing that nobody should ever do is take Big Brother too seriously.
So damn you, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, for causing people to befoul the blissful irrelevance of Big Brother.
I see this as something like if reporters had approached Ruth Buzzi in 1968 to ask if, during his brief appearance on Laugh-In in 1968, Richard Nixon had made any mention of hotels he intended to unsuccessfully bug and cover up in the not-too-distant future.
Say what you will about Omarosa, but she's not stupid, and if she has the capability to blow the lid off of the Trump administration, she's not going to give that dirt away for free or even a tiny subscription fee. So reporters have been poised to scoop up every stale kernel of information Omarosa might give up, and after a week-plus in the house, she has let the following shocking details slip:
1) During her time in the White House, she used to be worried about Donald Trump tweeting.
2) However bad Ross Matthews thinks things have been, they could get worse.
3) However bad people think Trump is, Mike Pence is worse.
Each of these utterances was written up like news, like a piece of insight provided by a person with intimate knowledge of the situation.
You know who else could have made the statements Omarosa has made on Celebrity Big Brother?
Storytime with Omarosa hasn't even risen to the level of one of those wish-fulfillment Twitter accounts that claim adjacency to the White House that your annoying friends pass around on Twitter because they confirm what many people on the left want to believe. Storytime with Omarosa has barely met the flimsy standard you'd want from a low-rent psychic.
"I'm sensing you have stress in your life from somebody whose last name starts with T. Does the color 'white' mean anything to you?"
"How did you KNOW?!?"
And yet it gets reported as news. Why?
Omarosa Manigault-Newman's official job title was apparently Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison in the White House.
Don't pretend you know what that means.
Don't pretend you know what that means she did.
(To make it clear that this isn't wholly partisan: I don't pretend to know what Kal Penn did in the Obama administration, but I've seen some journalists treat that situation like Penn just up and left House and went to go run Barack Obama's Department of Justice on a whim.)
And don't pretend you know what interaction that means Omarosa had with our president, much less Vice President Mike Pence.
So Omarosa says, "As bad as y'all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence. … Everyone that's wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their lives. We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president. … He's extreme."
This is where my instinct as a writer is to say, "Show, don't tell, Omarosa."
Instead, I'm forced to quote words of wisdom from Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray: "You always have to remember, this is Omarosa, a world-class reality TV villain, and is it true? Is it game? Is it her story? Is it the real story?"
Wise words, Mark McGrath. Wise words, best heeded by … everybody.
As I've already acknowledged, Omarosa is not stupid. She was not going to walk into a house of D-level celebrities, most proudly boasting liberal bona fides, and tell them that Donald Trump is awesome and she stands by everything she may or may not have seen or done in the White House. You're not going to make friends with Ross Matthews or Marissa Jaret Winokur by being an unrepentant Trump booster. By telling people in the house exactly what they already think without offering any supporting details, Omarosa is also able to offer passive-aggressive support for Trump along the lines of "Pence would be worse" or "Obama deported lots of people, too" without alienating them. As long as nobody asks for details, Omarosa could play Scheherazade forever, making her indispensable as a font of assumed wisdom, since otherwise Omarosa couldn't possibly offer anything to anybody else in the house.
So Omarosa benefits. And you know who else, of course, benefits? CBS, duh. Without Omarosa, Celebrity Big Brother is a non-event. The accumulated star power in the house is limited. Fans of the show might be amused by discovering that Shannon Elizabeth is a savant capable of spelling a 16-letter word in a backyard challenge or that Metta World Peace is the opposite of a savant, never appearing completely certain of what reality show he's on or why.
But nobody's going to write about that. It behooves CBS to have Omarosa around as long as possible and she has now survived the season's first two votes without any active success in the game under circumstances that would appear really, really shady, if you happened to be conspiracy-minded. Omarosa would have been an easy first vote-out if she hadn't won a "random" drawing to get immunity by virtue of … nothing. Then, after a sympathy-building hospital visit with an off-screen asthma attack, Omarosa returned to the house, was placed on the voting block and then was somehow spared when Rudy Huxtable (Keshia Knight Pulliam) announced that she wanted to go home because her breast milk was depleting. By surviving the initial opportunity for a "Let's get the awful person with the history of being an awful person on reality TV out of the house" elimination, Omarosa may already have moved into goat territory where people will want to take her to the end because nobody in a jury would ever vote for her. CBS would love that.
The only thing dumber, incidentally, than making real reporters cover Big Brother because of Omarosa has been making the current White House answer serious questions about her, a challenge because, again, she hasn't said anything substantive enough to be denied as crazy talk.
That meant that deputy press secretary Raj Shah had to give the statement, "Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice, and this was the fourth time we let her go."
The problem: Shah didn't work on The Apprentice, so what is that "we"? I'm extremely uncomfortable with the idea that a democratically elected presidential administration and a contrived competition reality show are part of a shared narrative universe. This isn't like Black Panther and Captain America existing in this same world. This is putting boardroom eliminations in the same fiction-blurring continuity as things that used to be consequential back when we lived in a real universe in which the firing of alleged senior White House staffers was a matter of consequence.
But I guess here we are. After all, with Omarosa still not offering a critique of substance after a week in the Big Brother house, the assault has shifted to its logical next phase: Piers Morgan accusing Omarosa of things so awful he never mentioned them when she was being given a job of alleged consequence in the White House. Game recognize game.
All I know is that treating things that idiots said or did on reality TV shows like they had real-world consequence is probably what got us into this mess in the first place. Just because CBS gave her the platform and Julie Chen has started teasing her non-bombshells as cogent analysis to be anxiously awaited doesn't mean we need to play their reindeer games. To be painfully obvious: This is much less CBS' fault than it is the White House's fault. If nobody at the White House is respecting the sanctity of the White House, I can't blame CBS for making hay.
"Omarosa Manigault-Newman" may have had something to do with the White House. Maybe.
"Omarosa" is a veteran reality TV loser and fabulist. Let's treat her as such. Please don't make me quote Mark McGrath at you again.