Caught With An Open Mic: They Never Learn

I often joke with colleagues that we’ll never go out of business; as long as there are humans, there will be spokespersons who fail to learn from a litany of past mistakes.

This article is an effort to collect the most extensive list anywhere of high-profile spokespersons forgetting they’re speaking into an open microphone.

Please help! If I’ve missed a high-profile “open mic” gaffe, please leave a tip (and a link, if possible) in the comments section below; I’ll update this story with your suggestions along the way.


Carly Fiorina, June 9, 2010: The morning after winning the California Republican Senate Primary, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO ripped into her opponent’s hairdo in the moments before a television interview began. She never recovered, and her opponent, incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer, cruised to victory.

Gordon Brown, April 28, 2010: British Gordon Brown was locked in a tight re-election bid when, just one week before May’s election, he spoke with one of his constituents on the street. He politely ended the conversation with the woman, got in his car, and was driven away. But he forgot that his microphone was still attached. As he was driven away, he called the woman a bigot. He lost the election.

Joe Biden, March 23, 2010: At the beginning of President Obama’s historic signing ceremony for his signature health care legislation, Vice President Joe Biden leaned in – near a hot microphone – and told the President the passage was a “big fucking deal.” Biden’s comments earned front page coverage and stole the headlines.

Michael Duvall, September 29, 2009: The married California assemblyman was caught on camera bragging to a colleague about his sexual exploits with a much younger woman, who he apparently liked to “spank.” He resigned within hours.

Jesse Jackson, July 6, 2008: Before appearing on the Fox News Channel to discuss Barack Obama’s historic candidacy, Mr. Jackson expressed displeasure with Mr. Obama’s views on values, saying, “I want to cut his nuts off.” He whispered, seemingly aware of the microphone, but his words were clearly audible anyway.

Kyra Phillips, August 29, 2006: CNN anchor Kyra Phillips took a bathroom break during an address by President George W. Bush. She forgot her microphone was on, and told a colleague her sister-in-law was a “control freak.” Must have made for an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.

George W. Bush, July 17, 2006: When speaking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a luncheon, President Bush told Mr. Blair that Syria should tell Hezbollah to “stop doing this shit.”

Prince Charles, March 31, 2005: One week before his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles told his sons what he really thought of BBC royal reporter Nicholas Witchell.

George W. Bush, September 4, 2000: At a speech during the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush spotted New York Times writer Adam Clymer in the crowd. He turned to VP nominee Dick Cheney and said, “There’s Adam Clymer, major league asshole from the New York Times.” Cheney agreed, saying, “Yeah, big time.”

Ronald Reagan, August 11, 1984: When testing a microphone before a national address, President Reagan jokingly said that he “signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever; we begin bombing in five minutes.”

Note: This list only includes clips of people who should have known they had a microphone on, and doesn’t include hidden camera investigations, video from private meetings, etc. Please leave any examples I’ve missed in the comment section below.

Note to reporters: You are welcome to use this article as a resource in your reporting. Please credit the “Mr. Media Training Blog” and include a link to this article.

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