Michelle Obama's "Large Posterior"

Congressman James Sensenbrenner has a double chin.

Normally, I wouldn’t point that out – but an incident involving the Wisconsin Republican just before the holiday break made his weight fair game. (Even though this story occurred late last month, I thought it was worth addressing on the blog.)

Seems Mr. Sensenbrenner was speaking rather loudly on his cell phone in the Delta Lounge at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. Unfortunately for him, a Democratic operative was nearby and heard every word. 

According to Fishbowl DC, he shouted into the phone that:

“A woman approached him and praised first lady Michelle Obama. He told the woman that Michelle should practice what she preaches — “she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”

 

First, I’m pretty sure it’s never appropriate for a male lawmaker to comment on the First Lady’s behind.

Second, is Mr. Sensenbrenner really arguing that Michelle Obama is overweight, and thus the wrong messenger for an “eat healthy” message?

Mr. Sensenbrenner’s spokesperson sent Fishbowl DC the following statement about the incident:

“Mr. Sensenbrenner was referring to the First Lady’s healthy food initiative. He doesn’t think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all of her initiatives, he plans to contact the First Lady’s office to apologize for his comments.”

 

I won’t spend a lot of time dissecting that half-apology. Ms. Obama is hardly telling Americans what to eat any more than Nancy Reagan told Americans not to take drugs or Laura Bush told American parents to read to their children. And given that more than one-in-three Americans is obese, which costs Americans and businesses tens of billions of dollars per year (or more) in health care costs, I’m glad she’s trying to help.

But since this is a media training blog, here’s the real moral of this story: Anything you say in public can and will be used against you.

As I wrote in an earlier story (which also contained the tale of my own public gaffe), I’m constantly amazed by what I observe in public – lawyers on packed Amtrak cars discussing sensitive cases loudly on their cell phones, businessmen working on documents marked “confidential” in plain sight on airplanes, and politicos hashing out controversial strategy over lunch within earshot of fellow diners.

Those people have no idea who I am. I could be their opposing counsel, or their direct business competitor, or a political reporter. And if I can use the information I learn against them, I will.

Remember – you’re not only on-the-record when you’re being interviewed. If you’re in a visible position, you’re on-the-record every time you open your mouth.

Related: The Ten Worst Media Disasters of 2011