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.

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August 2012: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 31, 2012 – 12:37 am

Kiss my ass!

They’ll put you back in chains!

Legitimate rape!

Those loaded statements can only mean one thing: It’s time for this month’s worst media disasters list. And folks, this month was a doozy.

Without any further ado, here are the five worst media disasters of August 2012!

5. Yahoo News Editor Gets Caught on a Hot Mic

Yahoo News’ Washington Bureau Chief, David Chalian, was caught on a hot microphone earlier this week for expressing a rather ugly view of Mitt Romney.

Speaking about Romney’s decision to proceed with the Republican National Convention in light of Hurricane Isaac making landfall, Chalian said: “They are happy to have a party with black people drowning.”

Yahoo fired him immediately afterwards.



4. Romney Spokesperson Tells Reporters to “Kiss My Ass”

Mitt Romney’s overseas trip was a bit of a disaster. But the most comical moment occurred toward the end of his trip when his traveling press secretary, Rick Gorka, snapped at the press corps.

I’ll admit it: The reporters in this video were acting boorishly. It’s not that they didn’t have a right to shout questions – in fact, Mitt Romney’s refusal to answer their questions throughout the trip necessitated it. But their superficial questions about gaffes made them look bad.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gorka took the bait:

In what has to be one of the most unintentionally contradictory statements of the year, Gorka scolded the press by saying, “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”

He was quickly sidelined by the campaign.


3. Vice President Biden Tells Crowd Republicans Will Put Them “Back In Chains”

When speaking to the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va. earlier this month, 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 it doesn’t matter. Politicians should have learned to avoid such rhetorical traps from Ross Perot’s infamous 1992 “you people” remark.


2. Clint Eastwood Hijacks Mitt Romney’s Big Night

Last night, Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination to become the Republican candidate for President. He proceeded to deliver one of the best speeches of his political life. 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 proceeded to address the bar stool, as if it was President Obama. It was off-message, bizarre, and embarrassing – and the news media spent precious minutes gossiping about Eastwood instead of Romney.

This one has to be seen to be believed.


1. Senate Candidate Offers Strange View of “Legitimate Rape”

In this era of endless partisan squabbling, it’s refreshing to see true bipartisanship in action. For a few days earlier this month, one politician brought opposite sides together – Republicans including Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and Sean Hannity were all in rare agreement with Democrats such as President Obama, David Axelrod, and Rachel Maddow.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of bipartisanship that Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin was going for. His controversial (and scientifically incorrect) assertions about rape caused a firestorm, with most prominent members of his own party begging him to quit the race:

“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.”


Despite the mounting pressure, he’s still in the race. For now.


Bonus Video 1: Ryan Lochte Is a Great Swimmer, But…

Olympic champion Ryan Lochte is a great swimmer. But judging from his media interviews, he’s not likely to get signed on as a network commentator any time soon.


Bonus Video 2: The Next President of The United States?

While announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney inadvertently called him “The next President of the United States.”

Although this was a gaffe, it was also emblematic of a larger point: Small media mistakes, when handled gracefully, can actually enhance the reputation of the person who commits it. I found this to be one of the most human moments of Romney’s entire campaign, and enjoyed seeing him display his unguarded sense of humor. He should allow the public to see more of this appealing side of his personality.

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What Clint Eastwood Teaches Barack Obama and The GOP

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 6, 2012 – 9:47 am

During halftime of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, Chrysler aired a stunning two-minute commercial featuring Clint Eastwood.

The ad was a masterpiece of political writing. It acknowledged in stark, unequivocal language that the United States is in rough shape – but it wrapped that tough message in optimistic language that aimed to rally the nation.

Here’s the ad:

“It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.

It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them is true about all of us.

This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.

Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.”


So what lesson can President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee take out of this ad? That this is the precise type of language Americans demand from our presidential candidates.

There have been eight general elections since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980. In all eight, the candidate with the more optimistic message has always won. That’s not to say we can’t handle tough truths – we can. But we want them delivered from a sunny candidate with a “can do” message, not from a dour candidate who fails to inspire us.

  2. Ronald Reagan, whose 1984 “Morning in America” campaign was the obvious inspiration for this ad
  3. George H.W. Bush, who promised a “gentler, kinder” nation in 1988
  4. Bill Clinton, who encouraged “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” in 1992 and promised to “build a bridge to the 21st Century” in 1996
  5. George W. Bush, who ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and who almost never allowed a pessimistic word to cross his lips.
  6. Barack Obama, whose “hope” and “yes we can” campaign was a salve in 2008, during the worst economic downturn in decades
  8. Not coincidentally, all of the presidential losers since 1980 have been perceived as pessimists: Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, George H.W. Bush (as compared to Bill Clinton), Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain.

It’s easy to see the theme here. President Obama has started to pivot to this type of optimistic language, and he demonstrated in 2008 that he has the capacity to deliver it well. Mitt Romney, assuming he gets the nomination, will need to quickly pivot to this type of rhetoric as well. His attacks on President Obama are fine and expected. But they’re not enough.

When trying to predict the outcome of the 2012 election, you can almost forget about the economy and foreign affairs. Ask yourself one question: Which candidate’s rhetoric is most like Clint Eastwood’s? The answer will likely determine which man is sworn into office on January 20, 2013.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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