The most embarrassing blunder of my news career happened fifteen years ago in Singapore. I had just finished a morning show at CNBC Asia and was sitting in front of a newsroom camera waiting to do a report into CNBC Europe’s programming.
But there was a technical problem. The computer that was supposed to switch CNBC World’s programming from Asia’s feed to Europe’s had malfunctioned and – unbeknownst to me – I was going out live on what was then a little known satellite channel for 36 minutes!
Viewers from around the world were treated to over half an hour of raunchy jokes and snorting laughter between me and my long-time coworker and friend Mark Laudi who was working at the next desk.
I am embarrassed to say we even had an in depth discussion about breastfeeding (my son Evan was just a few months old and Mark’s first child Sonya was on the way). We talked in horrifying detail about breast pumps and what I would do if my milk “let down” in the middle of a live show.
In hindsight, it was (kind of) funny. Viewers wrote in from Europe and several U.S. states to say they couldn’t take their eyes off the screen. That they were “fearing for me” because they were afraid I was going to say or do something that would end my career.
It was a close call.
“Every Microphone is a Live Microphone”
“Every Microphone is a Live Microphone” is one of the first lessons taught to broadcasting students in journalism school. It’s so simple that many guests being fitted with a mic before an interview will roll their eyes when they hear it and say: “Yeah, yeah, of course.”
But it still trips up the best of us.
Earlier this year, the mayor of Texas City went to the bathroom during a live telecast of a city hall meeting and forgot to turn off his wireless microphone.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina lost her bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 because she made an unkind comment about her opponent Barbara Boxer. Fiorina was waiting to do an interview with CNN’s affiliate in Sacramento, California when she made fun of Boxer’s hair. Even though it was not part of the actual interview, the station put the clip on their website. Fiorina was quickly labeled “catty” and lost the election.
This classic compilation of political gaffes from ABC’s Nightline (aired in 2010) illustrates the point beautifully. Click the Watch on YouTube link after you hit the play button.
And don’t think you are immune because you don’t appear on television.
My two sons play online games while chatting with a group of friends over Skype. That means I can sometimes hear what is happening in other homes and vice versa. I have sometimes cringed at snippets of private conversations taking place in other people’s living rooms that are unknowingly being broadcast to four or five other homes via the little boy Skype network.
Our privacy is diminishing. With smartphones all around us, your next inappropriate comment could be shared with millions on Twitter or YouTube in minutes.
So while it has become cliché to say “Every Microphone is a Live Microphone,” take it from me, it’s a great piece of advice.
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