Uh oh, hot mic — six times 'experts' slipped up on camera

Digital Media, Media Intelligence, Media Relations, Media Training

Declan Evans 25 Jan 2022
5 mins
Media interview from camera person's perspective

With smartphone technology now a ubiquitous part of modern life, it can be easy to forget that everyone is carrying a camera and a microphone.  

And as our reliance on smartphones has grown, it has become even easier to forget when it might be operating, and who might be listening.  

It is a phenomenon that can catch out even the savviest media professionals and politicians with their droves of media advisors; despite all their experience and knowledge, sometimes they are still exposed by what is known in the industry as a ‘hot mic’.  

What is a hot mic?  

Hot mic moments occur when a device captures statements, often offensive or insensitive, which are not intended to be recorded or broadcast.   

Add in a camera and there is no hiding; a minor slip-up or an innocent joke can escalate to embarrassment, regret, conflict, and everything in between.  

These situations can cause significant issues for those involved, with serious personal and professional implications attached to unwanted hot mic recordings.   

The ruthlessness and anonymity of the internet amplifies these moments, as creative types transform gaffes into memes and share them around social media networks.  

Here are six examples of when ‘experts’ got it very wrong, exposing themselves to ridicule from a variety of angles with different levels of consequence. 

News anchors air their true feelings towards Novak Djokovic

Despite having a combined 50 years of media experience, Channel 7 news readers Mike Amor and Rebecca Maddern were recently caught out during an ad break of their broadcast.  

The pair were discussing their personal thoughts on tennis star Novak Djokovic’s highly-publicised battle with Australian Border Force and the Federal Government over his application for an exemption from Australia’s vaccine requirements.   

Although they assumed the discussion was private, the two journalists’ conversation was soon circulating the web.

Ms Maddern later apologised for her comments regarding Djokovic, while Channel 7 is investigating how the footage was leaked. 

Despite being an embarrassing moment, Ms Maddern and Mr Amor have received support from management because the recording of what was intended to be a private conversation was illegally obtained.   

However, two experienced media personalities should have been aware that in the studio the cameras and microphones are always on, and the internet has a funny way of discovering such conversations.

Mistake or message? President Biden lets his frustrations show

US President Joe Biden dismissed Fox News reporter Peter Doocy for the second time in less than a month this week, with a salacious quip that prompted speculation over whether it was intended to be heard.

As most reporters were filing out of a press event, Mr Doocy yelled at a question at Mr Biden, asking if high rates of inflation would be a liability for the country’s upcoming midterm elections.

“It’s a great asset – more inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch,” Mr Biden responded.

While many have reported it as a traditional hot mic moment, because the comment was made on camera, at the end of a photo shoot, and with a microphone in front of the President, others believe it was more a message than a mistake.


Some right-wing commentators feigned outrage as they pounced on what they described as the President’s latest gaffe, but Mr Doocy himself laughed off the incident on Fox News and revealed Mr Biden had personally called him to “clear the air.”

It’s the second clash this month for Messrs Biden and Doocy, with the President having laughed at the reporter at his first news conference of 2022 after Mr Doocy asked him why he was “pulling the United States so far to the left.”

After letting out a small chuckle, Mr Biden’s retort was that his policies around the US’ Covid recovery, the bipartisan infrastructure plan and reducing the financial burden on the working class were not socialist like those of Senator Bernie Sanders, rather they were the policies of a “mainstream Democrat.”

Dr. Fauci tells us how he really feels

Even after two years of conducting press conferences and participating in live broadcast congressional hearings as America’s leading allergy and infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently had a private, less-than-savoury thought picked up through his microphone.  

After an animated discussion with Senator Roger Marshall about Dr Fauci’s financial disclosures, Fauci moved away from his microphone and muttered some words under his breath. Unfortunately for him, the microphone was able to capture his frustrated outburst.

Dr Fauci’s frustration stemmed from continued allegations from Republican lawmakers that he has profited from the COVID-19 pandemic. His hot mic comment signalled to many of his growing irritation with the enquiry into his financial situation. While there has been no official fallout from this slip of the tongue, Twitter users had plenty of fun with it. 

No matter how far you think the microphone is away from you, you should keep your under-the-breath comments to yourself, regardless of how much enjoyment the internet might get from them. 

Prime Minister’s translation tirade caught on camera   

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is well known for his proficiency with the Mandarin language. However, he never would have imagined it might cause him so much trouble.  

After struggling to complete a recorded message celebrating Chinese New Year in 2009, Mr Rudd vented his frustrations with the script provided by Australian embassy diplomats in Beijing.   

As the camera continued to roll, the Prime Minister clearly did not expect the footage to be published on the internet. 

When the video appeared in 2012 via an anonymous YouTube upload, it escalated tensions between Mr Rudd and then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. As a leadership challenge brewed, Mr Rudd questioned the timing of this leaked footage and Ms Gillard was forced to deny having anything to do with it being made public.  

As an experienced campaigner, Mr Rudd should have known that anytime the camera is recording that footage can end up anywhere. Next time you need a vent, make sure the camera is off, the phones are away, and you’re free from anything that may come back to bite you. 

Peter Dutton’s ‘private conversation’ goes public  

Former Immigration Minister and now Minister for Defence Peter Dutton made international headlines in 2015, when a tasteless joke intended for a private audience of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison went public.  

The ministers had noted that a meeting on Syrian refugees was running late, prompting Mr Dutton to remark that it was running on “Cape York time.” 

Mr Abbott, who had just returned from climate change talks with Pacific Island leaders in Papua New Guinea, replied: “we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby.”  

Mr Dutton then responded with the tasteless joke: “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”  

The current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was more aware of his surroundings than Mr Dutton, pointing out that there was a boom microphone hanging over their heads.

Cricket commentators stumped by streaming service  

Former athletes are often used in commentary roles for their knowledge on their sports and former profession. Although they are subject to training for their media roles, a lack of knowledge and experience can bring challenges as they enter the broadcasting booth.

As Fox Cricket commentators Shane Warne and Andrew Symonds prepared for their broadcast on television, the pair had a private conversation aired by a streaming service.   

The two were critiquing the behaviour of Australian cricketer, Marnus Labuschagne, as they waited to go to air on Fox Sports. However, Foxtel’s streaming service, Kayo Sports, had already made the stream available to over a million subscribers.  

Warne and Symonds were caught out in a foul-mouth rant which featured language far from suitable for the broadcast.   

Please be advised the following video contains offensive language.

Kayo Sports apologised for the incident which circulated social media. The commentators were forced to address their comments to Labuschagne and clear the air with the batter in response to online attention to the hot mic blunder.   

With the emergence of streaming, media presenters must be aware of the additional variables and changes in routine from traditional broadcasting. 

As technology advances and changes the way we broadcast and digest content, commentators and broadcasters will continue to be exposed to opportunities to be caught out on a hot mic.  

How can this be avoided?  

Purple’s team of media experts can help you and your business avoid these awkward situations. Hot mic moments can have serious implications for businesses and individuals and have a history of going viral.  

Our extensive media training offers clients a professional understanding of how the media works, how to navigate it, and how to best present you and your business in every aspect of the media. 

Contact us to see how we can help you.

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Declan Evans More from author

Declan is a Senior Consultant in our Corporate Affairs team, working with a range of clients in the manufacturing, technology and property sectors.

With a degree in Mass Communications from Curtin University, Declan brings a passion for writing and communicating through a wide variety of mediums, with a keen interest in writing strategic communications within a crisis space.

Declan has experience in marketing and sales, and after spending time living overseas, found a love for collaborating with a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds.

Out of the office, Declan spends his spare time playing and watching a variety of sports, searching high and low for new music, and exploring the globe.

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