The microphone is always on, Mr. President

UPDATED

Apparently, it was ABC News reporters who overheard the pre-interview banter between the President and CNBC who spread the word about the “jackass” comment, via Twitter. Now, there’s a debate raging in the journalism industry about whether reporters should have done it. Question: Did the President say it within earshot of reporters with whom he had no agreement to go “off the record?” Answer: Yes he did, so deal with it. The ABC News reporters did nothing wrong and the world needs to stop with the knee-jerk mass apologies!

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Whenever I do media relations training, one of the key points I stress is for people to remember that the microphone is always on. Essentially, there is no such thing as “off the record” except in TV and movies, and as a person important enough to get interviewed by the media, you need to remember that whatever you say can be printed or broadcast. This is even more true if you have one of the most important jobs in the world, such as President of the  United States.

barack2_1479337cI’m sure this lesson came screaming home to Barack Obama today after the Web site TMZ posted the audio of comments about Kanye West made by Obama just prior to an interview with CNBC. He was asked to comment about the singer making a spectacle of himself at the MTV Video Music Awards when he jumped on stage and stole the spotlight from award winner Taylor Swift.

Some people have speculated that the whole thing was scripted by MTV as a way to draw attention to the awards show — a lot more attention than it would have gotten on its own. Whether you believe in that conspiracy theory or not, you can’t deny that many people were calling West out for being a jackass at the awards show. Nevertheless, when the rest of us say it, even if we’re celebrities, that’s not heavy duty news. When Barack Obama calls you a jackass, though, the world takes notice.49246880

There’s a poll on TMZ asking if people support the President for his off-the-cuff remarks. As of Tuesday night around 10 p.m.  Eastern time, the votes were running 92 percent in favor of the President.

The President immediately realized what he had said and asked the press in attendance to cut him some slack, even joking about the interview tape that showed him killing a fly, leading to the “ninja President” moniker for a while. One reporter can be heard telling Obama that the ninja moment worked out OK for him, only to have the President lament that it didn’t work out so well when you consider the outrage from PETA.

The bottom line in all of this is that you just never know what’s going to happen when you make an off-the-cuff remark or let your emotions boil over and blurt something out when the media is around. Just ask Sen. Joe Wilson from South Carolina.

So remember, the microphone is always on and what you say can and probably will be used against you.

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