Jesse Jackson’s Preventable Mistake

It should be The Golden Rule of Broadcasting:  beware of what you say in front of a microphone.
My TV Broadcasting professors at Mohawk College could not stress this enough.  One day during class, we were shown something that hammered this point home.  We were watching a student newscast when the weather segment began.  Everything went fine but when it concluded, something disastrous happened.  The weather girl doing the report was outside at the time on her way back into the studio.  It was not a warm, summer day which inspired this comment:
“It’s fucking cold out here!”
Needless to say, her spontaneous outburst was picked up by her microphone.  We all had a good laugh at her expense.  It’s a damn good thing this was a student production, though, where she could afford to make silly mistakes like this.  (These amateur shows were made for MHWK-TV, the campus closed circuit outlet.) But what if it was a professional broadcast and her moment of stupidity was seen and heard by a lot more people?  Chances are, she’d be out of a job.
The rule of thumb is very simple:  when in the vicinity of any microphone, whether it’s a lav (the kind that’s clipped on you), a handheld or a boom (the type used to record dialogue for movies and TV shows), always assume it’s “hot”.  Never assume it’s off, especially if you’re off the air.
This is a lesson Jesse Jackson has had to learn the hard way.  Recently, he made an appearance on the Fox News Channel.  During a break when he wasn’t on the air, he turned to his colleague seated next to him and proceeded to complain, in a very soft voice, about Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for President.  He was upset about Obama supposedly “talking down to black people” regarding his recent announcement to expand President Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives policy.  At one point, channelling Tony Soprano, he whispered, “I want to cut his nuts off.” 
Needless to say, the moment was captured on tape even though it wasn’t aired at the time it happened.  (As sports broadcasters will tell you, even while on a commercial break, a special tape machine records everything that happens during a live event.  We just don’t get to see and hear what happens during those moments, unless somebody forgets to kill the mics and/or switch to the ads.)  According to this, it may very well have gone unnoticed were it not for a Fox employee who picked up on it while doing some routine digital transfer work.  Also, it’s been reported that Jackson had much more to say.  How long before we see that footage, I wonder?
Whether Jackson was accurate in his remarks or not isn’t the point here.  What matters is that, despite using a low tone of voice, his microphone clearly picked up every word he said.  (He’s been dealing with the media for decades.  He knows how TV shows are put together.  Why didn’t he wait until he was out of that studio and far away from any cameras and mics before speaking his mind?  His life would be less aggravating right now.)  And now the national media, Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, in particular, are having a field day with it.  Although Jackson has since predictably and unpersuasively apologized for what he said, it will be next to impossible for him to completely disassociate himself from his original words.  In this YouTube era, his comments will be available for viewing forever.  
And none of us would be talking about it if only he remembered The Golden Rule of Broadcasting.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 11, 2008
11:04 p.m.
Published in: on July 11, 2008 at 11:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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