A microphone gaffe, sometimes referred to as an open microphone (in aviation, a stuck mic) or a hot mic, is an apparent error whereby a microphone is switched on in proximity of a subject who is unaware that their remarks are being recorded. The error allows unintended listeners to hear parts of private conversations. Errors usually involve live broadcasting in radio or television, and sometimes material is recorded and played back via media outlets. Such events can cause embarrassment for the person or organization involved, sometimes resulting in serious confrontations and employment termination.
- In 1999, during a cricket test match between Australia and Pakistan, Australian Scott Muller misfielded a ball and a voice was heard saying, "Can't bowl, can't throw." Teammate Shane Warne was suspected, but a cameraman confessed.
- On 22 June 2000, Australian newsreader Marie-Louise Theile was recorded as calling her husband an "arsehole" during what she thought was a commercial break on Ten News in Brisbane.
- During television coverage of the 2000 federal election, a CBC Television producer covering Stockwell Day's campaign was heard on-air making a gratuitous comment about the breasts of Juliana Thiessen Day, Stockwell's daughter-in-law. His words were cut off mid-sentence: "This is Logan Day's wife. I've never met her, but apparently she's got tits that'd stop a—" The producer was forced to apologize.
- After a defeat for Chelsea F.C. in April 2004, British football athlete and commentator Ron Atkinson said of Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly: "He is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger." The microphone was open to some countries in the Middle East, with UK broadcasts having already finished. Atkinson was forced to resign his position at ITV and left his role as a columnist at The Guardian by mutual agreement.
- In September 2005, during a filming of Access Hollywood, Donald Trump and Billy Bush had "an extremely lewd conversation about women" where Trump said "when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... grab them by the pussy". When The Washington Post broke the story during the 2016 presidential election, in which Trump was the Republican nominee, several dozen Republicans renounced their support of Trump.
- A series of technical problems on 9 March 2006 forced ESPN2 to switch from its SportsCenter broadcast to that of ESPNews. Caught unprepared by the move, ESPNews broadcaster Danyelle Sargent struggled for words, forcing fellow anchor Robert Flores to finish her sentence. After the broadcast cut to taped footage, Sargent was heard exclaiming "What the fuck was that?"
- On 8 August 2006, Network Ten sports commentator Dean Jones said "the terrorist has got another wicket" when Proteas fielder Hashim Amla (the first player from a Muslim background to play test cricket for South Africa) caught Kumar Sangakkara during a match between South Africa and Sri Lanka. Jones claimed he thought the microphone was off and made prompt formal apologies, but was dismissed from his post.
- On 29 August 2006, U.S. news channel CNN was broadcasting the live Hurricane Katrina anniversary speech from President George W. Bush when the microphone of anchor Kyra Phillips was left on. Around 90 seconds of her casual conversation with another woman was broadcast over CNN's coverage of Bush's speech. During the conversation she discussed her husband, whom she called "a really passionate, compassionate, great, great human being," and her sister-in-law, whom she called a "control freak." CNN apologized to viewers and the White House.
- In August 2007, Australian journalist Kerry O'Brien, presenter of the ABC's The 7.30 Report, was recorded criticising his production staff for a mishap with the teleprompter while a story was running.
- On May 12, 2008, as a live news teaser was played, Sue Simmons was reportedly heard angrily exclaiming to a co-worker (later revealed to be Chuck Scarborough), "What the fuck are you doing?" She later apologized on-air for her inappropriate language. Simmons has said she was attempting to get the attention of Scarborough, who was preoccupied with his computer, but did not realize her microphone was still on.
- On 14 August 2008, actor Ernest Borgnine was interviewed on Fox News when he was asked about the secret to his longevity. Laughingly Borgnine responded "I don't dare tell you," but then leaned over to whisper into the ear of his interviewer, but the whisper was caught by the microphone; "I masturbate a lot."
- On 2 March 2009, footage of Dutch news anchor Eva Jinek asking whether to loosen another button on her shirt (which might reveal too much of her cleavage) right before a broadcast, while muttering and shouting mild curses in both English and Dutch, was accidentally leaked to and spread on the Internet. She exclaims "Yeah, boobies!" at one point, continuing with, "Mother of God. Yeah, if you have it, flaunt it!" and citing her mother who might tell her: "I can see your breasts!" She responded the next day, saying she was not annoyed nor embarrassed by the leaked video.
- Veteran Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray made remarks that a female referee wouldn't understand the complex offside football rule. This controversy led to Gray being sacked and Keys resigning.
- During a telecast of the 2016 Summer Olympics, CBC commentator Byron MacDonald was caught making an off-hand remark to a colleague discussing the result of the women's 4 × 200 m freestyle swimming relay, stating that a Chinese swimmer "went out like stink, [and] died like a pig." MacDonald and the CBC apologized for the incident.
- At the height of the Cold War in 1984 U.S. President Ronald Reagan was about to appear on a radio interview and, as a soundcheck, said "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." The comment, while not actually broadcast, did eventually spread via rumor around the world. It was not appreciated in Moscow.
- On 16 February 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton snapped at an aide "Listen, goddamn it. Come here. You can't do that. You can't take me out here with a mayor and a congresswoman and push them back" after a member of his staff tried to prevent Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from joining the President walking to a porch for a photo opportunity with construction workers.
- In 1993 British Prime Minister John Major, after an interview with ITN political editor Michael Brunson, forgot about the recording equipment. He called some members of his Cabinet "bastards" and promised to "crucify" them, and saying of recent revelations "I can't stop people sleeping with other people if they ought not to." He also called himself a "wimp" and said that he had no idea how to win an election.
- Following the 1994 State of the Union Address, Ohio Congressman Martin Hoke was preparing to be interviewed for a live broadcast for a local Cleveland television station. After being outfitted with a microphone by a female producer, Hoke remarked to another congressman that "She's got ze beega breasts" in a mock Italian accent. Although not broadcast live, the remark was recorded, and was the subject of a report by The Washington Post the following day.
- During his 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a "major league asshole" just before a campaign speech to Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose response ("big time") was also audible. The media reaction was intense, with news stations repeatedly broadcasting it and the New York Post running two pages about the incident. Bush said of the incident: "I regret that a private comment I made to the vice-presidential candidate made it onto the public airwaves. I regret everybody heard what I said."
- During a televised debate between U.S. presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign, Gore's sighs (in response to some of Bush's statements) were heard through Gore's live microphone. In regards to the incident, Gore was quoted as saying "Both the governor and I have learned lessons about when the microphone is on, and when it's off."
- On 11 March 2004, following a satellite address to the AFL-CIO, U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry turned to one of the Union workers he was standing near and said "Oh yeah, don't worry man. We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you -- we're just beginning to fight here. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen." Although being removed by an assistant at the time, Kerry's microphone was still live and captured his statement. His words were presumed to be directed at his political rivals, the U.S. Republican Party and U.S. President George W. Bush. Kerry spokesman David Wade later claimed that Kerry was indeed aware that his microphone was recording and was not referring to Republicans in general but to their use of "crooked, deceitful, personal attacks over the last four years."
- On 1 July 2006 a technician did not turn off the audio feed during a closed-door lunch between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amongst others. Journalists, on listening to the 20 minute broadcast, referred to the conversation as "bickering" about the Iraqi aid programme.
- On 17 July 2006 a private conversation, afterwards known as "Yo, Blair", between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg was picked up by a nearby microphone. Bush told Blair he hoped the UN would "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit" (referring to Syria's influence over and support of Hezbollah in the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon), and that by doing so, the crisis would be over. This was reaffirmed by the suggestion to "get Kofi [Annan] on the phone with [Bashar] Assad and make something happen." He also revealed that Condoleezza Rice would visit the area.
- On 19 October 2006 during an official meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin was overheard praising Israeli President Moshe Katsav for raping ten employees of his office.
- Before a Fox News interview on 6 July 2008, a live microphone picked up Jesse Jackson whispering to a fellow guest: "See, Barack's been, ah, talking down to black people on this faith-based... I want to cut his nuts off... Barack, he's talking down to black people" in an apparent response to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's recent speeches on values.
- On 28 April 2010 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught on microphone describing an encounter with a female voter as a "disaster" and called her a "bigoted woman".
- In June 2010, US Republican Senate nominee from California Carly Fiorina criticised the hair of her Democratic opponent, Barbara Boxer when she didn't realise her microphone was on during an interview for CNN. There was popular question as to whether this was staged as an attempt to undermine respect for Boxer, or whether it was an honest mistake.
- On 8 November 2011 a private conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama were overheard criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Sarkozy branded Netanyahu as a 'liar' and Obama expressed his displeasure with having to deal with Netanyahu on a regular basis.
- On 26 March 2012 at the tail end of his 90-minute meeting with the outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, President Obama said that he would have "more flexibility" to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense. He was heard telling Medvedev, "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space." Medvedev told the president in English, "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…" and President Obama continued his statement with, "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." Medvedev responded saying, again in English, "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir." (See also the US missile defense complex in Poland.)
- On 11 September 2015, Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton shared a joke with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, referring to a late meeting as running to "Cape York time", and when Abbott replied that "We had a bit of that up in Port Moresby.", Dutton responded with "Time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door."—a reference to sea level rise in the Pacific islands. Social services minister Scott Morrison then drew their attention to the boom microphone above their heads.
- On July 25, 2017, following a United States Senate Appropriations subcommittee meeting, Maine Senator Susan Collins was caught making disparaging statements about Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold. Collins, talking to Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, asks him if he heard about Farenthold wanting to challenge her to a duel. Reed asserts that the congressman did so because Collins "could beat the shit out of him." She then goes on to call Farenthold a "fat guy, he huge" and "so unattractive, it's unbelievable" and references a photo of the congressman at a costume party in pajamas next to a "Playboy bunny." Farenthold had previously apologized to Collins for his comments about Collins and the senator, in turn, apologized to Farenthold for hers.
- Britney Spears, about to go out in front of her largest ever concert audience in Rio de Janeiro in 2001, allegedly complained about the organization of her entourage, saying, "Don't tell me that they're just letting the audience just fucking stand out there like that. Oh my God! This is retarded." Her record company denied that it was Spears' voice that was broadcast to the 170,000 in attendance at the event.
- In March 2005 Prince Charles was heard saying, "Bloody people. I can't stand that man [referring to Nicholas Witchell]. He's so awful, he really is." He was heard to say this while posing for photographers with his sons in Klosters, Switzerland.
- On November 4, 2010, radio host Don Imus was caught on a hot mic mocking an advertisement for the charity Kars4Kids during a break, calling them a "moron" and telling them to "go to hell". Imus apologized the next day for the gaffe.
- A fictional example was featured in the US political drama The West Wing, in the March 2002 episode "The US Poet Laureate" (series 3, episode 16). which showed various aspects of the situation, the reactions, criticisms and responses, ending with the suggestion that the gaffe might have been intentional.
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