Fun With Live Microphones

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Much has been made in the press of President Obama's off-the-cuff, off-the-record remark about Kanye West and his upstaging of Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards ceremony. Even though Obama simply voiced what most viewers were thinking, there was a lot of media criticism/analysis after the fact as to whether his remark should've been made public. Of course, he's not the first public figure to be foiled by a microphone. Here are four other examples...

1. Michael D. Duvall, 2009

Over in Sacramento, California, Michael D. Duvall, assemblyman for California's 72nd District, was apparently unaware that his microphone had already gone live in preparation for a televised committee hearing. Duvall, who had recently been placed on the Rules Committee that oversees member ethics, couldn't resist sharing some gossip with the colleague seated next to him. "She wears little eye-patch underwear," the married assemblyman confided, "And so, we had made love Wednesday--a lot!" The "she" in question was lobbyist Heidi DeJong Barsuglia, who was also married. Duvall went on to describe the more intimate details of his relationship with Ms. Barsuglia, unaware that his boasts were being broadcast. He resigned from the California State Assembly on September 9, 2009.

2. Jesse Jackson, 1984

jackson-presWhile he was on the campaign trail in 1984, presidential candidate Jesse Jackson sat down with Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman for an interview. During the course of their conversation, Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies" and described New York City as "Hymietown." Jackson presumed that the reporter, who was also African-American, would not print these incendiary remarks—and Coleman himself didn't. But he shared his notes with another Post reporter who did. Louis Farrakhan used his Chicago-based radio show to call Coleman a traitor who'd violated black solidarity and went so far as to make death threats against the reporter and his family. Jackson eventually kinda, sort-of apologized for his remarks (though he kept mum about Farrakhan's comments), and Milton Coleman is now the Deputy Managing Editor of the Washington Post.

3. Newt Gingrich's Mom, 1995

In January 1995, veteran broadcaster Connie Chung interviewed Kathleen Gingrich, mother of Newt, who was then the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The interview was to be broadcast on the weekly magazine-style show Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, which was struggling in the ratings. She and her crew arrived at Mrs. Gingrich's home early in the day and Connie spent several hours just chatting with 68 year old Kathleen in a cozy, woman-to-woman manner. Once the cameras started rolling, Chung kept up the "best girlfriends" ploy and asked Mrs. Gingrich what her son thought of First Lady Hillary Clinton. When Newt's mom hesitated, Connie leaned forward and urged her to "whisper it, just between you and me." A more media-savvy interviewee would've spotted that trap a mile away, but Kathleen Gingrich was not a seasoned veteran when it came to the press. Besides, this nice lady wouldn't betray he, would she? So a guileless Gingrich scooted closer to Chung and uttered "She's a bitch" under her breath. This "scoop" did boost Chung's ratings for one week, but the backlash ultimately did more harm than good when it came to her career.

4. Nancy Kerrigan, 1994

time-nancykerriganFigure skater Nancy Kerrigan became America's Sweetheart after she was bashed in the knee backstage after an exhibition by a thug reportedly hired by her opponent, Tonya Harding. All eyes were on Kerrigan and Harding during the 1994 Winter Olympics, which had been hyped as "the ultimate showdown." In the end, Tonya broke a lace on her skate, which hampered her concentration, and even though Nancy looked like an angel in her white sequined costume, she was bested by 16-year-old Ukrainian Oksana Baiul. Nancy and her silver medal were whisked off to Florida so she could take part in a Disney World parade. Seated next to Mickey Mouse while smiling and waving to the throng of admirers, she muttered under her breath (apparently unaware that a microphone was picking up her comments): "This is so corny. This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I've ever done."

Of course her remarks were broadcast ad nauseum on TV news programs, so that the public could relish in the lack of gratitude the ice princess was showing toward her $2 million sponsor.
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We also could have included another Jesse Jackson moment from the 2008 campaign (his remark about castrating the Democratic nominee), or the time former President George W. Bush called a New York Times reporter a "Major league a**-hole." What other not-really-off-the-record moments do you remember?

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September 23, 2009 - 10:40am
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