David Chalian, Washington Bureau Chief for Yahoo! News, was quickly fired after he was overheard tying what he determined to be an uncaring Romney family to tropical storm Isaac: "They're not concerned at all," he said. "They are happy to have a party with black people drowning."
Actual opinion, or bad joke?
It doesn't matter. If you're a news figure -- politician, entertainer, business leader -- you should assume that a nearby microphone or journalist with a note pad will catch every word you say.
Dumb like a ...
But if you're employed by a news organization, considering all the unfortunate remarks that have been caught on open mics and widely publicized in recent years, the admonition changes from "you should assume" to "how can you be so damn dumb?" Your off-the-cuff and off-the-wall comments WILL come back to haunt you.
We could give you 50 examples of magnificent microphone moments; here are just eight, mostly from politics:
- President Barack Obama, picked up telling Russian president Dimitry Medvedev, "After my [re-]election, I [will] have more flexibility." Arrogance? Projection? Either way, a slip-up: saying what he was really thinking.
- President Ronald Reagan, in a radio interview sound check: "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 remark actually was never broadcast, but you can't keep golden opportunities like this quiet.
- Jesse Jackson, before a 2008 interview on Fox News: "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."
- Where would we be without George W. Bush, who, during the 2000 presidential campaign, told vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney that New York Times reporter Adam Clymer was a "major-league asshole." Cheney agreed, saying, "Big-time."
- And, for CornerBarPR.com® fans, we recently commented on irascible Fox News analyst and political pundit (we're tempted to use the term "on-air talent," in the sense that comedy is a talent) Bob Beckel, who doesn't know he's when he's on the air, making such comments as "You're fu@#ing toast!" and "You don't know what the fu@# you're talking about."
He has better writers
- On the Mar 27, 2002, episode of NBC's "The West Wing," President Jeb Bartlett, who acted very much like a "real" president, showed how these live-mic moments can be used to advantage, by giving a supposedly off-the-cuff answer before an open microphone on purpose, to trash a political opponent. As we said at the time, "He has better writers than you do, and they have the ability to dictate the outcome. In just 60 minutes!"
- And we all know of instances where someone -- a speaker, an announcer, a broadcaster -- forgot to turn off his wireless microphone just before he stepped up to use a men's room urinal.
- Speaking of pissing your way to fame, there was the "no-mic" lip sync of recording duo Milli Vanilli, who lost their 1990 Grammy award because they weren't really singing. They weren't even the ones who made the recording! Apparently, these microphone issues can work both ways.
Anyway, Chalian apologized, but it was too little, too late.
Oh, and yes, we, too, think the Yahoo! exclamation mark looks silly in a corporate name.