Five ‘hot mic’ moments that got leaders in trouble

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown

It’s a golden rule of politics: always assume the microphone is on.

But as many world leaders can testify, it’s a rule that’s often forgotten.

‘Hot mic’ moments have heaped embarrassment on politicians across the globe, from America to Australia.

Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught appearing to mock US President Donald Trump at a Nato meeting.

Unguarded comments like these have been a source of humiliation, sometimes with huge political fallout.

They have also shone a light into the murky corridors of international diplomacy – for better or worse. Here are five of the most memorable.

1. Ronald Reagan: ‘We begin bombing in five minutes’ (1984)

Ronald Reagan
Image captionUS President Ronald Reagan was often known to crack jokes during sound checks

At the height of the Cold War, US President Ronald Reagan turned up the diplomatic heat with a riff on Soviet Russia.

During a soundcheck before his weekly radio address, Mr Reagan joked with sound engineers who were recording him for NPR radio.

“My fellow Americans,” the president said. “I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

The tongue-in-cheek remarks were not broadcast live, but a recording was later leaked to the public.

As a result, Soviet forces were temporarily put on high alert in the Far East, and the comments drew condemnation from the USSR.

2. Jacques Chirac doesn’t like British or Finnish food (2005)

Jacques Chirac
Image captionMr Chirac accused Britain of having the “worst food”, second only to Finland

French President Jacques Chirac caused a stir with culinary comments he allegedly made during a trip to Russia.

According to French newspaper Libération, the veteran politician was speaking to his Russian and German counterparts during an event marking the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad – Russia’s enclave in northern Europe.

Thinking he was off-microphone, Mr Chirac allegedly said of the UK: “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”

“The only thing the British have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease,” he added.

While they didn’t make it to broadcast, the comments were never denied by Mr Chirac’s media team.

It came at a time of cool relations between Britain and France, as the two countries clashed over farming subsidies and France’s decision to abstain from involvement in the Iraq War.

3. ‘Yo Blair!’ (2006)

George W Bush and Tony BlairImage copyrightPRESS ASSOCIATION
Image captionGeorge W Bush’s unguarded comments to Tony Blair were mocked by political opponents

During a G8 Summit in St Petersburg, a private conversation – later known as “Yo, Blair” – was picked up by a microphone close to US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

During the exchange, Mr Bush appeared to greet his UK counterpart, saying “Yo, Blair, how are you doing?” He went on to thank him for the gift of a sweater, and made derogatory remarks about Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Referring to Syria’s support of Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel, Mr Bush said he he hoped the UN would “get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this…” followed by an expletive.

“Get Kofi [Annan] on the phone with [Bashar] Assad and make something happen,” he added.

Mr Bush’s use of the phrase “Yo Blair” was mocked by political opponents of both leaders. But its veracity has been questioned, with some journalists suggesting that he said “Yeah, Blair”.

The recording nonetheless highlighted the leaders’ close, and often controversial, relationship at the time.

4. Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ (2010)

Media captionBrown: “I apologise if I’ve said anything that has been hurtful”

While speaking with members of the public in Rochdale, northern England, Britain’s then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown was confronted by a woman who queried levels of immigration.

After their exchange, Mr Brown entered his car with a Sky News microphone still pinned to his clothing.

Not realising the microphone was still on, he told an aide that the conversation “was a disaster – they should never have put me with that woman”.

Asked what she had said, he replied: “Ugh, everything! She’s just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour. I mean it’s just ridiculous.”

Mr Brown later visited the woman – Gillian Duffy – to apologise, and repeated his apology during an interview on BBC Radio 2.

5. ‘I can’t stand him any more’

Media captionJournalist Dan Israel, who broke the story: ”They weren’t supposed to hear it, there was a mistake”

A chat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama was overheard by journalists at a G20 meeting in France.

Shortly before a press conference, reporters were handed translation boxes but were told not to plug their headphones in until the leaders’ backroom conversation had finished.

Several people ignored the instructions and heard Mr Sarkozy talking to Mr Obama about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can’t stand him any more, he’s a liar,” Mr Sarkozy said.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,” replied Mr Obama.

For several days there was media silence in France about the exchange, but Dan Israel of the French news website Arret sur Images later broke the story.

The exchange highlighted Israel’s strained relationship with both France and the US at the time.

Joe Biden’s and Pete Buttigieg’s Records on Race Come Under Scrutiny at 5th Democratic Debate


Presidential candidate Joe Biden claimed on the Democratic debate stage Wednesday that he has broad support from black voters and the only black woman elected to the Senate, seemingly forgetting that 2020 candidate Kamala Harris is a California senator. Biden’s comment came amid multiple blunders during the debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta. For more on the 2020 candidates’ discussion of race in their campaigns, we speak with Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, and Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue on the fifth presidential primary debate — Democrat — in Atlanta, Georgia.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re now joined for a roundtable on last night’s debate — in Washington, D.C., we have Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. In Berkeley, California, Gabriel Zucman is with us. He’s professor of economics at UC Berkeley and the co-author of The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. And in Atlanta, Georgia, we’re joined by Ryan Grim, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept, who was at the debate last night.

AMY GOODMAN: And here in New York City, Rashad Robinson is with us, president of Color of Change, his latest piece for The Nation headlined “Forget About Plans, Which Candidate Can Get Things Done?” Let’s begin with former Vice President Joe Biden speaking last night.

JOE BIDEN: I’m part of that — that Obama coalition. I come out of the black community in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community, that have announced for me, because they know me, they know who I am — three former chairs of the Black Caucus, the only African-American woman that’s ever been elected to the United States Senate, a whole range of people. My point is —

SENKAMALA HARRIS: No, that’s not true.

SENCORY BOOKER: No, that’s not true. That’s not true.

SENKAMALA HARRIS: The other one is here.

JOE BIDEN: No, I said the first. I said the first African American elected, the first African American. So my point is…

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Kamala Harris is putting her hands up, and she’s the one who corrects him: No, you don’t have the support of your rival – right? — Senator Harris. What are you talking about? Rashad Robinson, can you explain what happened there?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah. I think it’s always tricky when white folks try to outblack black folks. And I think Biden would do his self a favor at looking what Bill Clinton did back in ’07 and ’08 in South Carolina, where he sort of talked about his history and support with the black community, to undermine the insurgent candidacy of President Obama at the time, and folks began to turn on him and began to push back on that. Hillary Clinton enjoyed a lot of support back then from a wide range of black folks. But what she enjoyed and what Biden enjoys is a lot of support from insiders, from the establishment, from folks that are looking at sort of the calculation and think that this is the candidate that white people will accept and white people will vote for. And as we get closer and closer to Election Day, if Biden is not willing to consolidate support, when — we’re going to see people moving away. And we already see that in terms of young black folks, in terms of the activist community, and many others that just simply don’t think that Biden has the range.

And he hasn’t been there. He hasn’t showed up. Biden is the only candidate that we have not been able to get a sitdown meeting with. It’s absolutely outrageous that we, like, have reached out multiple times, and it’s almost like a joke now with his folks, where they say, “Oh, well, maybe. Well, sort of.” And I can’t even think of any next-generation black leader or organization in the movement right now that’s had a sitdown conversation with Joe Biden. If this is what he does when we’re dating, what’s going to happen if we marry? This is actually a really big problem. If he’s not willing to sit down and have conversations, to hear from us about our priorities, then we’ve got a lot of concerns about what the future looks like.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to an exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. This is co-moderator Kristen Welker.

KRISTEN WELKER: Senator Harris, this week you criticized Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s outreach to African-American voters. You said, quote, “The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people,” end-quote. What exactly prompted you to say that, Senator Harris?

SENKAMALA HARRIS: Well, I was asked a question that related to a stock photograph that his campaign published. But, listen, I think that it really speaks to a larger issue, and I’ll speak to the larger issue. I believe that the mayor has made apologies for that.

The larger issue is that for too long, I think, candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, and have overlooked those constituencies and have — you know, they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time and show up in a black church and want to get the vote, but just haven’t been there before. …

KRISTEN WELKER: Mayor Buttigieg, your response to that?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: My response is I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me.

And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low-income, for eight years I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity, that has built up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s South Bend Mayor Pete speaking last night at the debate. Ryan Grim of The Intercept, you were there, and you’ve written a lot about the mayor. Your response to what he said and his performance last night?

RYAN GRIM: Well, it was interesting that Kamala Harris decided to kind of take a pass on coming directly at Mayor Buttigieg in that exchange. And nobody else really came at him throughout the entire debate. I think he was prepared for an onslaught, given that there had been recent polls showing him up in New Hampshire and Iowa, and normally the front-runner gets piled on. That may have been delayed until the next debate.

What she was referring to as a stock photo was related to a broader controversy over the way that he presented what’s known as his Douglass Plan for Black America. This is the primary piece of outreach that he has to the black community. And when he rolled it out, yes, it was kind of funny that he used a stock photo from a Kenyan woman and her little brother to kind of promote the project for Black America.

But, you know, more damaging to him, and which Harris did not get into, is that he listed 400 supporters of this plan, the top three of whom were leaders of the black community in South Carolina. You know, after it came out, they told The Intercept, two of them — Johnnie Cordero, who is the chairman of the South Carolina Black Caucus, said, “I explicitly told them I do not endorse this plan, and they used my name anyway.” State Representative Ivory Thigpen said the same thing. He explicitly told them that he was not endorsing the Douglass Plan, and they put his name on it anyway. He, in fact, is the co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign in South Carolina. The third endorser said, “I told them that it was OK to use my name for the Douglass Plan, but I said, ‘Please don’t make it look like I’m endorsing your candidacy.’” And she felt like they were intentionally vague in the way they rolled it out, to make it look like they had done that. And it’s very difficult to imagine a politician doing that sort of thing to a white state senator in Iowa or New Hampshire, for instance. It’s really difficult to imagine that happening to any community other than the black community in American politics.

And so, Harris pivoted to a conversation about what is your authentic connection with the black community. And Booker also hit later on a related point, which is if you can’t bring together the Obama coalition. And that was kind of a code for bringing together white progressives, LGBT community and the black community together — and the immigrant community — together into that coalition that’s able to get more than 50% of the vote. If you can’t make that entire coalition whole, you’re going to fall short. But they didn’t kind of name him when they were making that argument.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Rashad Robinson, I mean, the significance of this? Because you have Mayor Pete now polling number one — in one of the whitest states in the country, Iowa, number one. He has jumped something like, if you believe the polls, roughly 10%, against Warren, Sanders and Biden, which is why everyone was going after him last night, yet polling at almost zero within the black community.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah, I mean, I’ve had some time to talk with Mayor Pete, and, you know — and really have pushed him. I don’t even understand why he named his plan the Douglass Plan. Like, can you explain? Is Frederick Douglass someone that is really inspiring to you? Why? What is your relationship with the community? I think, you know, the problem that Mayor Pete has is that he comes across as a very good student, someone who has deeply studied and can understand issues, but doesn’t have a context oftentimes or a story to back it up. And people realize that and recognize that. He is a millennial who does not have right now black friends out there talking about him. And that’s worrisome, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what happened in South Bend, Indiana —


AMY GOODMAN: — during his campaign, the killing of an African-American person there.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Absolutely, absolutely. The killing — both the police killing and the ongoing way that he’s had problems with police-community tension, the firing of the black police chief, who was working to expose racism in the force. You know, this is someone who’s had deep challenges with racial justice, in a relatively small city that most people probably can’t point to at the map — on the map, who now wants to be president of the United States.

Racial justice is not a side piece. It’s not charity. And while it is moral, it is actually strategy. It’s a strategy to actually win. And it’s a force multiplier for the type of change that we need on our side to get people mobilized out to the polls, to expand the base. If a candidate actually does not have the type of relationship where people feel like they’re known, like they’re going to actually be engaged and they’re going to be prioritized, then they’re not going to show up in big numbers. And I think the challenge for Mayor Pete is that the Douglass Plan, on paper, seems like a lot of good —

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, named for Frederick Douglass.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Named for Frederick Douglass — seems like a lot of good information — I’ve read through it, I’ve talked to him about it — but there is no story or context behind it. There’s also not a history of him implementing it and executing it. And with all of these candidates, I am not interested, and folks are not as interested, in the what, but the how. What is your experience and your relationship to movements to actually getting this done? We have a history, hundreds of years, of stalled progress, of inequality on race issues in this country. And we need someone that actually has experience, the ability to mobilize people and the ability to move people. And we need to know that it’s a priority, not something you have to do to check off a box. He still has some work to do in that regard.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to discuss this fifth Democratic presidential debate that took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: iLe, singing “Temes” in our Democracy Now! studio. Her latest album, Almadura, was just nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award. To see her full performance and interview here at Democracy Now! about the protest movement that took down Puerto Rico’s governor last summer, visit

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Ex-Border Patrol Agent Matthew Bowen Sentenced to Probation for Running Over Migrant

H5 ex border patrol agent sentenced probation running over migrant tucson matthew bowen guatemalan antolin rolando lopez aguilar

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Tucson sentenced former Arizona Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen Wednesday to three years of supervised release and an $8,000 fine for intentionally running over a Guatemalan migrant with a pickup truck in 2017 — and then falsifying records about the assault. The man he struck, Antolin Rolando López-Aguilar, survived. Court filings show Bowen had sent a slew of racist text messages on his phone, referring to immigrants as “mindless murdering savages” and “beaners,” among other insults.

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#PrimariesSoWhite: Why Do Two of the Whitest States Vote First for Presidential Candidates?

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As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the presidential nomination process remains heavily weighted by two states that are among the whitest in the nation: Iowa and New Hampshire. Candidates, in some cases, spend more than a year making frequent, extended campaign swings through both Iowa and New Hampshire, which, critics say, gives the concerns of the first states a disproportionate impact on the agenda for the entire race. During the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice earlier this month in South Carolina, Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to criticize the primary schedule, saying, “I’m just a player in the game on this one.” Fellow 2020 presidential contender Julián Castro, however, has been a vocal critic of the existing system, noting that the demographics of the country have shifted significantly in the last several decades. “I don’t believe that forever we should be married to Iowa and New Hampshire going first,” he told MSNBC last week.

‘Greatest Nation on Earth,’ US has world’s highest rate of children in detention: UN study

More than 100,000 children are being held in migration-related detention in the US, a new UN study finds.

Child migrants are seen outside the US Border Patrol McAllen Station in a makeshift encampment in McAllen, Texas in May [File: Loren Elliott/Reuters]
Child migrants are seen outside the US Border Patrol McAllen Station in a makeshift encampment in McAllen, Texas in May [File: Loren Elliott/Reuters]

The United States has the world’s highest rate of children in detention, including more than 100,000 in immigration-related custody that violates international law, the author of a United Nations study said on Monday.

Worldwide more than seven million people under age 18 are held in jails and police custody, including 330,000 in immigration detention centres, independent expert Manfred Nowak said.


Children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible, according to the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

“The United States is one of the countries with the highest numbers – we still have more than 100,000 children in migration-related detention in the (US),” Nowak told a news briefing.

“Of course separating children, as was done by the Trump administration, from their parents and even small children at the Mexican-US border is absolutely prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I would call it inhuman treatment for both the parents and the children,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction from US authorities. Novak said US officials had not replied to his questionnaire sent to all countries.

‘Inhuman treatement’

Novak said the US had ratified major international treaties such as those guaranteeing civil and political rights and banning torture, but was the only country not to have ratified the pact on the rights of children.

“The way they were separating infants from families only in order to deter irregular migration from Central America to the United States to me constitutes inhuman treatment, and that is absolutely prohibited by the two treaties,” said Nowak, a professor of international law at the University of Vienna.

Child immigration - US
Protesters hold signs outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children while members of Congress tour the facility [File: Lynne Sladky/AP Photo]

The US detains an average of 60 out of every 100,000 children in its justice system or immigration-related custody, Nowak said, the world’s highest rate, followed by countries such as Bolivia, Botswana and Sri Lanka.

Mexico, where many Central American migrants have been turned back at the US border, also has high numbers, with 18,000 children in immigration-related detention and 7,000 in prisons, he said.

The US rate compared with an average of five per 100,000 in Western Europe and 14-15 per 100,000 in Canada, he said.

At least 29,000 children, mainly linked to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters, are held in northern Syria and in Iraq – with French citizens among the biggest group of foreigners, Nowak added.

Even if some of these children had been child soldiers, he said, they should be mainly treated as victims, not perpetrators, so that they could be rehabilitated and reintegrated in society.

Trump’s immigration policy

Since coming to office, US President Donald Trump has implemented a crackdown on immigration. As part of his “zero-tolerance” policy at the border, his government implemented a practice of separating families. Following public outrage, Trump formally ended the practice in June 2018, but immigration advocates say family separation continues in other ways.

Last week, an analysis of US government data by The Associated Press and PBS’s Fronline showed 69,550 migrant children were held in US government custody over the past year.

AP and Frontline also found that children held in government custody spent more time in shelters and away from their families than in previous years.

ICE Family Separation protest file photo
US President Donald Trump has escalated a crackdown on immigration since coming to office [File: Stephanie Keith/Reuters]

In September, a judge blocked new Trump administration rules that would have enabled the government to keep migrant children in detention facilities with their parents indefinitely.

The judge said the rules conflict with a 1997 settlement agreement that requires the government to release immigrant children detained along the border as quickly as possible to relatives in the US and says they can only be held in facilities licensed by a state.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly said that detention is not suitable for children, who may suffer numerous negative physical and emotional symptoms.

The Trump administration has faced harsh criticism of its temporary border patrol stations, where lawyers and internal government watch-dogs reported hundreds of children and families were held in squalid conditions.

Remembering the Greensboro Massacre of 1979, When KKK & Nazis Killed 5 People in Broad Daylight

NOVEMBER 04, 2019

Hundreds gathered this weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, when 40 Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis opened fire on an anti-Klan demonstration in Greensboro, North Carolina, killing five anti-racist activists in a span of 88 seconds. Those killed were members of the Communist Workers’ Party. Ten other activists were injured. No one was convicted in the massacre, but a jury did find the Greensboro police liable for cooperating with the Ku Klux Klan in a wrongful death. Local pastors in Greensboro are now calling on the City Council to issue an apology for the events that led to the 1979 killing. W

Stop Mass Shootings (MoveOn Gun Control Team)

On Sunday, a gunman with a military assault-style weapon killed three people, including a 6-year-old boy, and injured 12 at a garlic festival in California. It was the 42nd mass shooting in July alone and the 246th in America this year.1

These shootings need to stop. At festivals. At schools. At places of worship. At night clubs. At movie theaters.

There are so many simple, clear steps that lawmakers can take to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in America—by passing into law policies that are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans and even most gun owners.2,3

Universal background checks. Closing the gun show loophole. Banning assault weapons such as AR-15s. Banning bump stocks.

Indeed, the Democratic U.S. House passed two bills that would accomplish many of these goals earlier this year, but Mitch McConnell and the GOP—at the bidding of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun manufacturers—won’t even allow the bills to come up for a vote in the Senate.4 They won’t even allow federal funding for research into gun violence.5 It’s outrageous. And it’s heartbreaking.

That’s why we’re going to hold McConnell and other vulnerable GOP senators accountable and defeat them in 2020, starting with putting up billboards in central, high-traffic locations in their home states that highlight their role in America’s gun violence epidemic. Will you pitch in $3 to help us pay for the billboards?

Yes, I’ll chip in now to help hold GOP lawmakers accountable, fight the NRA, and end the epidemic of gun violence in America.

The horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly seven years ago should have been a tipping point on gun violence in America, but since then:

  • There have been approximately 2,185 mass shootings.6
  • Congress has passed into law zero measures to make our children and communities safer.
  • The NRA and gun manufacturers continue to write big checks to Republican politicians.

According to polls, Mitch McConnell and other GOP senators who are up in for re-election in 2020 are increasingly vulnerable.7 But to defeat them in 2020—which is the only way we can finally pass legislation to address America’s gun violence crisis—we need to make sure their constituents know that they’re standing with the NRA and blocking commonsense reforms to address America’s gun violence epidemic.

We didn’t budget for the billboards, which is why we’re asking you to chip in now, so we can quickly purchase them. We can only do it if we raise the money now. Can you chip in $3—or whatever you can afford—right now?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help hold McConnell and other NRA-funded politicians accountable.

We can never forget that the GOP is culpable in these heartbreaking and avoidable gun deaths, as a result of their obedience to the NRA’s dangerous agenda. Let’s make sure that the voters in their states know it, too.

Thanks for all you do.

–Emily, Emma, Stephen, Manny, and the rest of the team