Why you should care
Because she’s keeping CNN woke.
Her eyes open wide and turn left as she blinks and looks away from her CNN co-panelist, Kayleigh McEnany, who is extolling Donald Trump’s good deeds. The effect is cartoonish — and secures the Eye Roll in the Angela Rye pantheon of internet gold.
She’s made for a social media video-clip age, in which a well-debated point means you DESTROYED someone. YouTube is crammed with Rye highlights, from using a Beyoncé-inspired “Boy, bye” to shut down Trump ally Corey Lewandowski to calling talk-show host and former congressman Joe Walsh a “bigot” who doesn’t deserve a televised platform. But it is the Eye Roll that best captures how Rye lets you know what she thinks, even when it’s not her turn to speak. Or, as her former boss, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, puts it: “She’s not bashful.”
No, she’s not, and it draws Rye plenty of online hate amid the congratulatory flame emojis. When OZY asks about a double standard, she replies sharply: “The angry Black woman thing.” Well, yes. “I own whatever my emotions are,” she says. “Yeah, sometimes I’m mad, and it’s OK.”
When Rye, 37, started out in TV commentary just a few years ago, she says she was somewhat timid, but she found the voice that’s now heard regularly on CNN and NPR expressing searing outrage at the rise of Trump. “She’s going to be the Beyoncé of political commentary in a way you haven’t seen since Oprah,” says Van Jones, a fellow liberal activist and CNN commentator. “In fact, Beyoncé is the Angela Rye of music. That’s what you’re going to say in five years.”
Rye grew up in Seattle, the daughter of an activist and a retired college administrator. Her earliest political memories involve the anti-apartheid movement and getting a street renamed for Martin Luther King Jr. Her first big sacrifice for the movement came in 1990, when her father informed the fifth-grader that she had to deface her new Air Jordans by putting duct tape over the Nike logo, part of a national protest over the company’s lack of business dealings with Blacks. She complied, but was relieved when the protest ended. (Rye got off easy: There was a shoe bonfire in Los Angeles.)
[You] have to have a combination of brains and charm and brass, because you gotta be able to jab.
Jack Kingston, former U.S. congressman and CNN political commentator
Rye always wanted to be a lawyer, first as a Jerry Maguire–style sports agent, then as a Johnnie Cochran–style trial attorney. While at Seattle University School of Law, an internship in Los Angeles with Rep. Maxine Waters set her on a political path. She went to Washington, working for Thompson on the House Committee on Homeland Security, where she pushed for more minority hiring by the Department of Homeland Security and its contractors. As executive director and general counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus, Rye helped guide the group during what she acknowledges was a frustrating time, when its legislative goals were blocked in a newly Republican Congress, and there was substantial pressure not to butt heads with the first Black president even as the group wanted Barack Obama to push harder on civil rights and jobs for Black communities. Now Rye looks back with nostalgia on the pre-Trump “glory days.”
In 2013, she left Capitol Hill to launch a political advocacy firm, Impact Strategies. She had been courted by a law firm, but when it lowballed her on salary, Rye decided she could make more money on her own — and do it her way. The firm’s political and communications strategy focuses on “social impact work” and has counted Microsoft, PayPal and the Service Employees International Union among its clients.
Rye’s television debut came on C-SPAN when she was working with the Congressional Black Caucus, and, she says, her boss at the time, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, thought staffers could help reach young people. From there, she was noticed by TV One and then MSNBC, where she appeared regularly on Al Sharpton’s Politics Nation, among other shows. She joined CNN as a contributor and broke out as a star during the tumultuous 2016 campaign. She even impressed a Trump-supporting CNN sparring partner — Jack Kingston, the former Republican congressman from Georgia. Kingston says he noticed Rye tearing up during Obama’s final speech as president, a sign that she’s more authentic than most in Washington. But she’s a perfect fit for cable news combat in 2017. “Really, what sells ads are food fights,” Kingston says. “So I think that you do have to have a combination of brains and charm and brass, because you gotta be able to jab.… I can say this because I am a Republican and it’s still allowed: Angela’s a good-looking woman, and in TV, that counts.”
In July, Rye added to her YouTube reel by telling Kingston that Trump was “your president,” not hers. The clip raced through conservative media. “Rye’s lack of civility knows no bounds,” declared NewsBusters. “That’s just immature,” huffed Townhall. Rye shrugs off the criticism, insisting that Trump’s bullying rhetoric is a signal that “diplomacy’s out the window.”
This summer, she launched a podcast, On One With Angela Rye, where she trades quips for lengthy interviews and humorous “rants” on the latest Trump news. She refers to Obama as “the last real president,” while urging her audience to “stay woke” and “resist, y’all.”
Is this the path to a TV show of her own? Rye says she’s “had to overprove my qualifications” as a woman of color, while other “fly-by-night” commentators get shows. But she’s more focused on setting an example and opening doors for other women and minorities. “You can have an all-Black panel and still get a variety of opinions, and that is a good thing,” she says. In any case, her style would be hard to duplicate.