On air light in media studio

Great mic blunders of our time (don’t think they can’t hear you!)

When the microphone was first patented in the 19th century it should have been accompanied with a stern warning: Treat this device as if it were switched ON at all times.

A person facing the press pack of reporters and cameramenAt the time of writing Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau appears to have been caught out by mocking Donald Trump while talking to world leaders at a NATO summit in the UK.

As every broadcaster will tell you: The first rule of broadcasting is to watch your mouth near a microphone. As the saying goes: “Loose lips sink ships.”

So isn’t it amazing how many broadcast veterans, performers and well-versed public figures forget this simple but vital ‘health warning’. Time and time again even those well used to working in broadcasting forget that microphones can record even whispers.

Politicians and even royalty have given us some of the most memorable examples of microphone slip-ups and here are just some of them….

  1. David Cameron inadvertently reveals that the Queen “purred with pleasure” when Scotland voted against independence.
  2. Gordon Brown forgets his mic is still on when he describes voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” after she challenged him on the subject of immigration.
  3. Prince Charles complaining privately (or so he thought) about royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell: “I can’t bear that man. I mean, he’s so awful, he really is.”
  4. “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” US president Ronald Reagan soundcheck ahead of a weekly radio address.
  5. French President Nicolas Sarkozy overheard talking about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the G-20 summit. “I can’t stand him. He’s a liar.”…according to French website Arret Sur Images.
  6. American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson sparked an outrage with off-air comments in relation to president Barack Obama saying that he wanted to ”cut his nuts out” and that he was ”talking down to black people”
  7. “You can do anything.” US president Donald Trump brags about using his fame to attract beautiful women. He infamously goes on to say in vulgar terms how he feels he can treat them.
  8. French President Jacques Chirac discusses English cuisine with Russian president Vladimir Putin: “The only thing that they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease”.

Given the subject of this blog I really should ‘fess up’ to at least one of my own (many) hot mic slip-ups. People sometimes ask what presenters say to each other on those end-of-show wide-shots as they shuffle their scripts and the studio lights fade. Thinking that my microphone was off I asked my programme co-presenter if gossip concerning a newsroom colleague’s extra-marital affair was true. The colleague later told me that it wasn’t and would I mind not discussing his private life live on-air. Yes – you guessed it the mic had been left on and I had inadvertently shared the conversation with our tv audience.

Mike McCarthy
Northern Star Media.