The Ten Worst Video Media Disasters Of 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 13, 2012 – 6:02 AM

2012 was an election year, so it’s no surprise that politicians consistently committed the types of gaffes that took their campaigns far off message.

This year, we heard about the “47 percent,” “tacos,” and “chains.” But it wasn’t just politicians in trouble–an executive, a football coach, and three broadcast personalities also made the list.

Without further ado, here are the ten worst video media disasters of 2012!

Honorable Mention: Kathie Lee Gifford: How’s Your Dead Wife?

In May, Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford committed an embarrassing gaffe when she asked comic Martin Short how his wife was doing. The problem? Mr. Short’s wife, Nancy, died two years ago. It’s not that she made a mistake. It’s that her question, asked in that typically “insider” show business way, suggested a much more intimate friendship with the Shorts than she clearly had.


10. Joe Biden: “Republicans Will Put You Back in Chains.”

When speaking in August, Vice President Joe Biden used an unfortunate choice of words that instantly triggered accusations of racism. He told the crowd, in which many African Americans were present:

“Romney wants to let the–he said in the first hundred days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put you all back in chains.”

Biden denied that his comments had any racial context, but all politicians should have learned to avoid such rhetorical traps from Ross Perot’s infamous 1992 “you people” remark.


9. One Mayor’s Pledge to Eat Tacos

When four police officers in East Haven, Connecticut were indicted on charges of beating Hispanic residents, a reporter asked the town’s mayor, Joseph Maturo, “What are you doing for the Latino community today?”

Mr. Maturo’s shocking response—“I might have tacos when I go home”—led to him being blasted by members of the community, the governor, and the media. The rest of the interview wasn’t much better. This may only rank ninth on the year-end list, but it’s my personal favorite of the year.


8. Democratic Consultant: Ann Romney “Never Worked”

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen caused a stir during a CNN interview in April when she said that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life.” Many women were offended at Ms. Rosen’s assertion, especially given that Ms. Romney was a stay-at-home mother who raised five boys.

Rosen’s comment, which helped Republicans neutralize the “war on women,” quickly drew condemnation from within her own party. Within days, President & Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden, White House Spokesman Jay Carney, and Campaign Communications Director David Axelrod all condemned her remark. 


7. Football Coach Offers Cash for Injuring Opponent

In a remarkably violent and vulgar audio tape released in April, former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was caught offering players money to injure members of the opposing team before a 2012 divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. About one player, he said:

“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head…we want his head sideways.” About another player, he said, “we fuckin’ take out that outside ACL.”

Mr. Williams’ disgusting rant earned him an indefinite suspension from the NFL. May he never spend another moment on a professional, college, high school, or youth football field.


6. Clint Eastwood Hijacks Mitt Romney’s Big Night

On the final night of the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination to become the Republican presidential candidate. He proceeded to deliver a fine speech. Unfortunately, actor Clint Eastwood–who took the stage minutes before him–stole many of the headlines Romney had earned.

Eastwood took the stage accompanied by a bar stool. For 11 painful minutes, Eastwood addressed the bar stool as if it was President Obama. It was off message, bizarre, and embarrassing–and the news media spent precious minutes discussing Eastwood afterward instead of Romney.


5. Rush Limbaugh Calls Student a “Slut”

Bombastic right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh isn’t known for mincing words – but his vicious attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was extreme even by his own loose standards. 

Ms. Fluke testified before a Democratic House panel that Georgetown–a Jesuit university–should be required to provide contraceptive care as part of its health insurance plan. Mr. Limbaugh responded by asking if she was a “slut” or “prostitute” who is “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.”

He didn’t seem to understand that the cost of a woman’s contraceptive care doesn’t correlate directly to the amount of sex she’s having; nor did he factor in the many health reasons women use contraception. But his advertisers understood, and they fled his show in record numbers.


4. Susan G. Komen Founder Blows Crisis Response

Susan G. Komen founder Nancy Brinker appeared on MSNBC after her organization cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, allegedly because Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. The resulting crisis was a disaster for Komen that threatened to destroy in a matter of days the favorable reputation it had built over decades. 

Ms. Brinker bombed the interview, during which she claimed that “the responses we’re getting are favorable,” seemingly oblivious to the firestorm around her. She edgily blamed her critics for not “bothering” to read more about their decision and failed to express any reassurance to her supporters who felt betrayed by the decision.

The group’s fundraising took a major hit, with fewer women participating in Komen’s annual races. In Washington, DC, 40,000 women raced in 2011; only 26,000 did in 2012. Similar drops were reported in several other U.S. cities.

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3. The First Debate and the Other Barack Obama Gaffes

From “The private sector is doing fine” to “If you have a business, you didn’t build that,” President Obama offered his opponents plenty of fodder for negative attack ads.

But it was Mr. Obama’s shockingly lackluster performance in the first presidential debate that may have been the biggest surprise, leading to an immediate decline in his poll numbers and a collective freak out by his Democratic supporters, who wondered how badly he really wanted a second term.

During the debate, Mr. Obama responded to Mitt Romney’s attacks without any discernible passion, instead making meandering points full of “uhhhs.” The video below is an edited compilation of some of Mr. Obama’s more than 200 “uhhhs.” It’s emblematic of how hesitant and unfocused he was throughout the debate.


2. The “47 Percent” and the Other Mitt Romney Gaffes

Whether saying “I like being able to fire people,” criticizing London about its Olympics preparation during a trip to the U.K., or boasting about his wife’s two Cadillacs, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney couldn’t get out of his own way all year. But it was his comment about the “47 percent” that may have sealed his fate:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it….My job is not to worry about those people.”

The video was a disaster for Mr. Romney’s campaign, taking them far off their desired messages just two months before Election Day.


1. Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape”

Missouri’s Republican Senate candidate, Todd Akin, caused an uproar when he used the phrase “legitimate rape” during an August television interview.

But it was what he said immediately afterward that was both scientifically false and terrifyingly ignorant. Speaking about the possibility of a woman getting pregnant after being raped, he said:

“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin’s comment served as a perfect example for Democrats pushing the theme of a Republican “war on women.” Republicans, aware of the damage Akin’s comment would have on the rest of the party, quickly begged him to quit the race. He refused. And Democratic incumbent Clare McCaskill beat him by a whopping 15 points in a race that favored the Republican challenger in many early polls. 

Although Akin wasn’t alone in these types of comments–Indiana’s Richard Mourdock and Joe Walsh swam in similar waters–his was the most high-profile.

Don’t commit your own media disaster! Learn how to remain on message by reading my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. Click here to learn more.

Copyright information: All content on this website is ©2012 Phillips Media Relations, LLC. No information on this website may be used without prior permission from the copyright owner.  Journalists and bloggers may use limited excerpts from this post as long as they include an attribution to the “Mr. Media Training Blog” and a link to this page.

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Comments (13)

  1. By Jeff:

    Please pay attention: “you didn’t build that” was not a gaffe, unless we consider using the wrong pronoun a major screw up. The statement was deliberately and repeatedly taken out of context despite clear evidence (easily gathered by watching the entire statement) and continued to be foisted on the public. I’d like to believe the real gaffe was continuing to use it as a campaign point, which the anti-Obama base loved and embraced, but the swing voter who pays attention saw it for what it was…an effort to distort and thereby distract from substantive discussion of the point the candidate/president was making. The whole episode serves as an illustration of the counter-productive aspects of political campaigning.

  2. By Jeff:

    PS I would argue that Romney’s “I like to fire people” got the same unfair, distorted treatment.

  3. By Brad Phillips:

    Jeff —

    I agree with you on all of those points, and made the same point in my live blog of the Republican National Convention. Both quotes – Mr. Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” and Mr. Obama’s “If you have a business, you didn’t build that” were badly distorted by their opponents for political gain.

    For that reason, I cited President Obama’s bad debate performance as his main media disaster, and Governor Romney’s “47 percent” as his.

    So why, then, did I include both in the text of the article? Because in a political culture in which misplaced pronouns become the next opposition ad, politicians have to be more careful than ever to articulate their ideas with precision.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  4. By ducdebrabant:

    “You didn’t build that” was not a “gaffe” (and calling “the private sector is doing fine” a gaffe is stretching it). Both were sentences that had to be taken out of context to be exploited, and the first one had to be WRENCHED out of contest, and then (having no context LEFT) provided with a new, fraudulent context of the Republican’ invention. I know this is an article about gaffes, but the RNC doesn’t get to decide what a “gaffe” is, coming from a Democrat. The fact that somebody runs ads against you, using your words, doesn’t necessarily mean you should have said them.

  5. By Brad Phillips:

    I agree with you about 95 percent – please see my response to the last commenter. (Hey, at least I didn’t say 47 percent.)

    The five percent I disagree with you on is this: At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise to any candidate that a sentence with a misplaced subject or mangled wording is going to be exploited by the opposition for political gain. Given that context, people running for office have to take every possible precaution to avoid any phrase that, on its own, could be parsed and used against them by their opponents.

    Is that unfair? You bet. I recently wrote about the unfair expectations political reporters place on candidates here:

    The 95 percent I agree with you on? Neither Mr. Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” nor Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” were particularly fair attacks. For that reason, I shined the brightest light on Obama’s first debate and Romney’s “47 percent.”

    Thank you for reading and commenting.


  6. By Matt:

    This is literally the most civil discussion I’ve ever seen in a comments section in my entire life.

  7. By Brad Phillips:

    Matt –

    Thanks so much for noticing! I try to keep it civil in here, even if people disagree with something I’ve written. There’s so much ugliness in the world, I’d hate to pay for the privilege of hosting comments from people who are unnecessarily hostile or profane.

    Best wishes,

  8. By POLITICAL WIRE’S HEADLINES – 12/14 « Accomack County Democrats:

    […] Brad Phillips lists the 10 worst media disasters for 2012 and eight are about politics. […]

  9. By Joel:

    I agree with you regarding the extreme care politicians must take in order to avoid blowback on mangled soundbites. However, I had conservative/Republican friends, having heard the president’s entire remarks surrounding the “you didn’t build that” line, still defending the Romney campaign’s use of the phrase. They actually thought that the president was saying that successful businesses were built by the government.

    It’s clear to me that gaffe or no gaffe, Republican’s live in an alternate reality.

    I also agree that Mitt Romney’s “I like to fire people” was stretched beyond belief, but he showed a great deal of evidence of that being exactly how he feels, especially regarding the 47%. The president, on the other hand, gave a great deal of props to the entrepreneurial spirit.

  10. By Stephen Wade:

    I think the real issue here is not that politicians’ statements are taken out of context then used against them. The real issue is that it is the responsibility of the press to ferret out the when and how this is done and inform the public. The task is how to get the public to pay attention to the truth as well as the politicians’ lies and distortions.

  11. By Ellie Shuster:

    Martin Short demonstrated an approach that is a good example to us all. Instead of embarrassing Kathie Lee Gifford by remarking that his wife had passed away, he graciously went with it and without missing a beat, spoke the truth… he loves her still. The message? Take the high road.

  12. By Brad Phillips:


    I completely agree. I’ve loved Martin Short since his days of playing Ed Grimley Jr. on SNL – and his deft handling of that moment only made me think more of him.

    Thanks for commenting,

  13. By Ryan Allison:

    Thoroughly impressed by the civility of the comments in this thread. I’m a student at Penn State World Campus and this top ten list is being used in Lesson 8 “media training” in a course titled Writing For The Media. As I scrolled down I was anticipating an ignorant off topic blast of one party over another. I was thrilled to not have my anticipation satisfied. Cheers!

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