Omarosa Manigault-Newman, sound engineer

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Alayna Treene, "Scoop: How Omarosa secretly taped her victims", Axios 9/3/2018:

Omarosa taped nearly every conversation she had while working in the White House, including ones with "all of the Trumps," a source who watched her make many of the tapes tells Axios. Omarosa did this with a personal phone, almost always on record mode. […]

Before heading into meetings, she would often press "record" on her personal phone — which she carried in her pocket or in a small purse.

Here at Interspeech 2018, several of us discussed over breakfast the excellent sound quality of the clips we've heard, with everyone agreeing that we wish the interviews we often work with (clinical and even sociolinguistic) were anywhere near as good.

Here's a fragment of the conversation in which John Kelly fired her, taken from the YouTube version of a CNN story broadcast on 8/12/2018.

So this clip has been processed and transcoded in various ways down a chain of steps from Omarosa's purse via CNN to YouTube.

But still, it's really good, compared to what we usually get from psychologists, neurologists, and sociolinguists. This is partly because (at least some) modern smartphones have multiple microphones with some kind of noise-reduction software on the recording pathway. And maybe Omarosa learned something about recording techniques from her years in reality TV. Anyhow, it'd be a service to science if she recorded a set of instructions about how to make high-quality interview recordings (though IRBs will quite properly insist on informed consent from all the people who are recorded…)



  1. Bob Ladd said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 1:12 am

    The quoted story says she "taped" nearly every conversation she had in the White House. Unless she had a very special smartphone, this is a nice example (like "dialling" a phone number) of how vocabulary based on older technology can survive changes to new technology where strictly speaking the old vocabulary doesn't make sense.

  2. Phil Jennings said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 6:22 am

    People may talk of "footage" even though they no longer use film in the video process, in countries that have gone metric.

  3. Rube said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 7:04 am

    I was, indeed, pretty astounded at how sharp that was in a surreptitious recording. I wonder what brand of phone she was using.

  4. Trogluddite said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 9:57 am

    My impression of the sample recording is that there is very little "room sound" (reflections and reverberation.) An axiom of amateur music recording is that a better recording system will often just result in better recordings of a terrible acoustic environment; some money spent on drapes and diffusers will often improve the sound far more than spending it on more expensive equipment. So I wonder how much of the disparity in audio quality is due to the West Wing being a somewhat more salubrious environment than many researchers have to contend with!

  5. cameron said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    @Trogluddite : I agree about the low level of room noise. Aside from drapes and carpeting in those spaces, the fact that the phone and its microphones were in her handbag, rather than out in the open, might also have helped shield it from ambient noise.

  6. Trogluddite said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 11:04 am

    @cameron: Indeed; vocal intelligibility is strongly affected by sound reflections which arrive very early (within a few milliseconds), so carrying the microphone on one's person can give improved quality over, say, a microphone placed a few inches above a conference desk; treating such "mirror points" is a prime consideration when setting up a quality listening environment in a recording studio. Live sound engineers have been known to refer to the audience at gigs as "mobile sound absorbers" due to the effectiveness of bags of flesh for cutting reverberation!

  7. William S Berry said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 4:19 pm

    @Bob Ladd:

    My favorite example of this phenomenon is adults teaching their toddlers the (presumably onomatopoeic) term "choo-choo" train. I am aware that steam-driven locomotives, with their characteristic chuffing sound, still operate in some parts of the world, but haven't been used in the West in many decades.

  8. Arthur said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 7:21 pm

    That particular recording was made in the situation room within the white house, the super duper secure room where the President convenes the military advisors about wars and such. The security features may create unique acoustics.

  9. Trogluddite said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 12:32 am

    @Arthur: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. If you can't afford to have any sound leak out, then you'd want to muffle it (turn it into heat in an absorber) as much as possible; the reverberation would quickly build up to a distracting level if you kept it trapped inside as acoustic energy. Since sound can't get out, it also can't get in, so the noise floor would be very low, too. It would also be a place where misunderstandings caused by poor speech intelligibility might be rather more serious consequences than usual!

  10. ajay said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 5:27 am

    People may talk of "footage" even though they no longer use film in the video process, in countries that have gone metric.

    I never even made the connection between "film footage" and "stuff measured in feet". Thanks!

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 7:24 am

    Surely she did not consciously try for the best sound quality; if nothing else she was more concerned with not getting caught. The combination of the acoustics and the recording devices used presumably is enough to explain it (I'm not sure if enhancement by the TV program could also contribute).

    Why don't you experiment with this? If common phones give better quality than your usual equipment, and that matters, maybe that's what you should be using for taping.

    k_over_hbarc at

  12. Trogluddite said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 10:38 am

    @Andrew Usher: I agree, experimentation is exactly what I'd suggest too. There are many simple techniques which researchers could take from musical sound engineering which, thanks to the rise in home recording, are easily accessible on line. The best articles will always stress that these are a repertoire with which to experiment in each new circumstance rather than absolute best practices that should be applied dogmatically.

    For example, when recording a singer, one would always do plenty of test recordings to find the best combination of microphone and position to suit the location and performer; relatively small changes in distance, angle, position relative to walls, etc. can be used very effectively to alter the balance between sound components from the performer's chest, throat, mouth and nose, and reflections within the space. Likewise, something as simple as a couple of duvets hung behind the performer can make a massive difference. It may not be possible to turn your bedroom studio (or research lab!) into Abbey Road Studios, but there are plenty of low-cost/DIY improvements that can be made in any interview space over which the interviewer has any control.

  13. richard said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

    Speaking as an ethnomusicologist with more hours of (literally speaking here) field recordings in my past than I can remember, the type and quality of microphone and mike placement can make a huge difference. I did interviews in rice fields with multiple interviewees and a horde of onlookers chatting away, but using a single, active, stereo microphone with a double-cardioid pattern judiciously aimed between the interviewees always produced excellent results. It was easy to distinguish speakers by their location in the stereo field (if nothing else), and all the activity outside the conversation went unrecorded. The only time I was defeated was in an interview on the island of Sangihe, northeast Indonesia, in a house with a tin roof, during a torrential rainstorm. Had to rely on written notes that time….

  14. Andrew Usher said,

    September 8, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

    Eh, I don't believe that musical recording was what was being discussed in the blog post. Anyway, the reason I posted was primarily that the title was obviously misleading.

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