Nicolas Sarkozy overheard calling Benjamin Netanyahu 'a liar' at G-20 summit
Gaffe is not the first time a politician has been caught on-microphone but off-guard
George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Joe Biden all made similar gaffes
President Barack Obama and his then-French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, came under fire in November 2011 after they were overheard talking about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the G20 summit.
Sarkozy told Obama: “I can’t stand him. He’s a liar,” according to French website Arret sur Images.
Obama is reported to have replied: “You’re tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.”
The comments have provoked criticism in Israel and the United States – but it is not the first time a prominent figure has been caught off-guard, on-mic. CNN looks back at 10 of the most infamous gaffes.
Gordon Brown on ‘bigoted’ voter
Then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 2010 campaign was not going well, but he had no idea how much worse it was going to get when he stopped to chat with a voter in Rochdale, England, a week before the election.
Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old pensioner, proceeded to berate Brown, explaining why – despite having backed his Labour Party all her life – she was now ashamed to admit her political allegiance.
Brown kept up a polite conversation with her as the TV cameras looked on, then drove away unaware his microphone was still on.
Once inside the car, he complained to advisers: “That was a disaster. They should never have put me with that woman. … Ridiculous … bigoted woman.”
Brown later apologized but went on to lose the election.
George W. Bush to Tony Blair
Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, was witness to one of the most famous on-mic blunders by U.S. President George W. Bush during a lunch meeting at the 2006 G8 summit in Russia.
Bush hailed the Prime Minister with the greeting “Yo Blair!” and thanked him for a recent gift of a sweater. He then began discussing the situation in the Middle East, offering a not entirely diplomatic solution to the difficulties between Syria and Israel.
“What they need to do,” he told Blair, “is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s— and it’s all over.”
George W. Bush on reporter
The 43rd U.S. President was no stranger to the gaffe – entire books were written about his famous “Bushisms” – and they were in evidence even on the election trail.
At an Illinois campaign stop in September 2000, Bush was caught on camera referring to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer as a “major-league a——” – to which his running mate Dick Cheney replied: “Oh yeah, big time.”
Bush later said he was sorry his comments – intended, according to his advisers, as a “whispered aside” – were overheard.
“I regret that the private comments made it to the public airwaves,” he said. “I regret people heard the comments.”
Prince Charles on royal correspondent
Bush is not the only public figure to have voiced frustration and anger at the media in an unguarded on-camera moment.
Prince Charles got himself in hot water with the British press when he was caught muttering under his breath about a reporter to sons William and Harry during a photo call on a 2005 skiing holiday in Switzerland.
Taking exception to a question from longtime BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell, the prince complained: “Bloody people. I can’t bear that man. He’s so awful, he really is.”
The comment did little to repair Charles’ fractious relationship with the media and proved that gaffes can still offend, even when couched in polite language.
Joe Biden to Barack Obama
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in a class all his own when it comes to putting his foot in it.
In one of his most famous blunders, he was caught on tape dropping the F-bomb while congratulating Obama over the signing of the controversial bill to overhaul health care in March 2010.
Introducing the President to the media, he turned to hug Obama, and was heard whispering: “This is a big f—— deal.”
Jesse Jackson on Barack Obama
Obama has also been the target of on-camera slip-ups.
In the run-up to the 2008 election, veteran civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson was overheard accusing the then-Illinois Senator of “talking down to black people.”
During the taping of an interview for Fox News, Jackson whispered to a fellow pundit “I want to cut his nuts off.”
Jackson later apologized for his “regrettably crude” remarks, which became one of the immortalized soundbites of the campaign.
John Major on colleagues – and himself
Elections are fertile hunting ground for gaffes as politicians battle for airtime and headlines, but then-UK Prime Minister John Major found himself in trouble in 1993 when he admitted he didn’t understand why people kept voting for him.
The day after members of his Conservative Party had rebelled in Parliament over plans to expand Britain’s links with Europe, the normally unemotive Major was heard referring to the Eurosceptic lawmakers as “bastards” and threatening to “crucify” them.
Speaking to a reporter after an interview – when he thought the microphone had been switched off – Major said he could not see “how such a complete wimp like me keeps winning everything.”
Jacques Chirac on British food
French President Jacques Chirac also had winning on his mind when he was caught on tape, criticizing an entire nation in 2005.
Chirac was playing a leading role in Paris’ quest to host the 2012 Olympics when he tried to make the most of what he saw as a clear advantage over competitor London: food.
“The only thing that they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease,” he told Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. “You cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine.”
Predictably, the comments provoked the ire of the British tabloids, but the Brits had the last laugh days later when London won the rights to stage the 2012 Olympics.
Jean Chretien on U.S. politicians
Chirac is not the only politician to have risked cross-border conflict with an ill-advised on-mic jibe.
Speaking to his counterparts from Belgium and Luxembourg at a NATO summit in Madrid in 1997, Jean Chretien, the then-Prime Minister of Canada, was overheard taking aim at his neighbors in the United States.
Chretien was taped claiming that U.S. politicians would all be in jail if they worked in Canada or elsewhere, as they all sold their votes.
Ronald Reagan on Russia
A throwaway joke by President Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War could have had serious implications.
Taking part in a sound check shortly before his weekly radio address to the nation in August 1984, Reagan announced to listeners:
“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.