The following is a list of faux pas (a violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules), gaffes (unintentional things said or done that proved embarrassing or humiliating) and unfortunate incidents (those things that were not gaffes or faux pas yet were nonetheless considered to be regrettable or embarrassing to the party or parties involved) involving U.S. Presidents. Some were by Presidents themselves while others were made by those either associated with or who reported about the U.S. President of the day.
Warren Harding’s poor grasp of the English language, coupled with his insistence on writing his own speeches, produced notorious linguistic errors. He once commented:
“I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved.”
Harry S. TrumanEdit
Harry S. Truman had unexpectedly become President owing to the sudden death of longterm President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Few expected him to secure election as the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1948. In an effort to boost his ratings, during the Democratic National Convention the party released dozens of doves into the convention hall. The action backfired spectacularly when some of the doves died in the intense heat and others, made dizzy by the heat, desperately tried to escape and dive bombed the delegates.
Lyndon B. JohnsonEditLyndon B. Johnson was well-known for his coarse language and occasionally unrefined behavior. While not a gaffe in office, an embarrassingly personal tape of LBJ ordering pants from Joe Haggar on August 9, 1964, was later released to the public. In it Johnson belches, complains about the pants riding up and cutting him “down where ya nuts hang” when he gains a little weight, like “riding a wire fence,” and asks for more material “under my back of my bunghole” that he can let out if need be.
Gerald Ford, who succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974, made numerous gaffes and faux-pas, many of which, while making people see him as human and less |imperial than his predecessor, made others vote against him for election in 1976.
Among his more famous examples are: On October 6, 1976, during a televised Presidential debate in the 1976 Presidential election with rival Jimmy Carter, President Ford became confused and stated that Poland and Eastern Europe were not under the domination of the Soviet Union. When challenged over his comments, he repeated “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” In the words of Professor Alan Schroeder, author of Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High Risk TV: “That was a gaffe that took him some time to recover from—mostly because he did not back away from the statement.”
- Playboy magazine, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it.” While campaigning for president in 1976, Jimmy Carter candidly noted during an interview with
While on a visit to Poland in 1977, President Carter delivered a speech which was notoriously mistranslated. For example, one innocent comment by Carter was translated as indicating that the President of the United States had “left America never to return.”
During an April 20, 1979, fishing trip to Plains, Georgia, Carter encountered a swamp rabbit that attempted to board the President's fishing boat, which he shooed away with a paddle. The story found its way to the national press a few months later. It was covered for over a week, and Carter was widely portrayed as having acted in a “cowardly” fashion on his encounter with what the press nicknamed the “Killer rabbit.”
Ronald ReaganEditMy fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Information about the recording (though the recording itself was not aired) was later released, causing an alert to be triggered in the USSR.
- “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation
that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes” (file info) —
- Problems listening to the file? See media help.
George H. W. BushEdit
In January 1992, while on a state visit to Japan, President George H. W. Bush became ill and was shown on television vomiting into the lap of the Prime Minister of Japan, Kiichi Miyazawa, who was sitting beside him, during a state dinner.
On February 5, 1992, Bush attended a National Grocers Association photo-op in Orlando, Florida. It was widely reported that he had expressed “wonder” and “amazement” at supermarket scanner technology that had been widely used since 1980. The story gave the impression that Bush was detached from the lives of ordinary Americans.
During a town hall debate with rivals Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, while his opponents were answering, cameras caught a shot of Bush glancing at his watch and looking bored. The action was picked up by the media and reported as a gaffe, in that it showed he wasn’t interested in the debate and didn’t want to have to spend his time taking part, even though the debate was for the electorate’s benefit. National Geographic said that “[t]he gesture gave viewers the distinct impression that Bush would rather have been elsewhere.”
Bill Clinton’s presidential career was, in the view of many, stymied by his address to the 1988 Democratic Convention. The up-to-that-point “future candidate to watch,” Governor Clinton delivered an infamous thirty-minute speech that bored delegates and viewers alike. When he finally said the words “in conclusion” the audience broke out in applause. Clinton, however, saved his reputation by an appearance on The Tonight Show where he poked fun at himself for his longwindedness. Though the speech was widely seen as a major faux-pas that could have killed off any future Presidential bid, by 1992 he had overcome it and won the presidency.
On May 20, 1993, Clinton received a haircut aboard Air Force One by Beverly Hills hairstylist Christophe. It was reported that during the one-hour haircut the airplane’s engines were running and two of the four runways at Los Angeles International Airport were shut down, forcing some scheduled air traffic to circle the airport waiting to land. The expensive haircut was said to have caused long delays, becoming a source of ridicule less than six months into Clinton’s presidency. However, an analysis of Federal Aviation Authority records by Glenn Kessler of Newsday revealed that, contrary to reports, only one (unscheduled) air taxi reported an actual delay-of two minutes.
While under attack and under oath during taped grand jury testimony prior to his impeachment hearing, he declared that whether he had told the truth hinged on the definition of the word “is”: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Clinton made the statement “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” Referring to Lewinsky as “that woman” was widely regarded as crass and a faux-pas. Tests performed by the FBI later showed Clinton’s DNA on a semen-stained navy blue cocktail dress owned by Ms. Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached for making the false statement under oath in what would come to be known as the Lewinsky scandal.
George W. BushEdit
January 20, 2009 — During his inauguration speech, Barack Obama said “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.”. Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is counted as both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth President. So in fact only forty-three individuals, including Obama, have served as President of the United States and have taken the oath.
February 24, 2009 — During a speech before a joint session of Congress, Obama claimed the automobile was invented in the United States. German Karl Benz is generally credited with inventing the first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine.
March 2009 — During an exchange of gifts with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill and gave Brown a collection of twenty-five American movies. The DVDs had a North American region code. The British press saw the move as a snub of Brown.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Stephen Pile, The Book of Heroic Failures (Futura, 1980) p.180.
- ↑ Christian Science Monitor
- ↑ "Debate One-Liners, Gaffes of Yesteryear". ABC News. 30 September 2004. http://abcnews.go.com/US/Vote2004/story?id=96665.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Handwerk, Brian (October 12, 2004). "U.S. Presidential Debate Trivia: Gaffes, Zingers, More". National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1008_041008_Presidential_debate.html.
- ↑ "Jimmy Carter The Playboy Interview - Excerpt". 2001. http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/history/faculty/TROYWEB/Courseweb/JimmyCarterThePlayboyInterview.htm. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
- ↑ Blundell, Nigel (1995). "Washington’s diplomatic disasters". The World’s Greatest Mistakes. New York: Bounty Books. pp. 23–24t. ISBN 0600572323.
- ↑ "That’s Not What I Said — Top 10 Embarrassing Diplomatic Moments (9 of 10)". Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1880208_1880218_1880227,00.html?imw=Y. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
- ↑ "A Tale of Carter and the ‘Killer Rabbit’; President Orders Photograph". New York Times. 30 August 1979. pp. A16.
- ↑ Press Association
- ↑ "21 September". On This Day. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/9/newsid_4396000/4396846.stm. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
- ↑ Margaret B. Carlson (29 February 1988). "Same Substance, Different Style". Time 131: 38.
- ↑ Christian Science Monitor
- ↑ CJR — Darts & Laurels, Sept/Oct 1993
- ↑ Haircut: a Tale With a Life of Its Own
- ↑ "21 September". On This Day. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/21/newsid_2525000/2525339.stm. Retrieved 8 March 2006.
- ↑ "Sex, lies and impeachment". BBC News. December 22, 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/12/98/review_of_98/themes/208715.stm.
- ↑ BBC (September 5, 2000). "Bush: No apology for gaffe". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/910614.stm. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ BBC (June 12, 2001). "Bush on tricky foreign mission". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1383385.stm. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ BBC (August 6, 2004). "President gaffes in terror speech". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3541706.stm. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ BBC (November 20, 2005). "Door thwarts quick exit for Bush". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4454738.stm. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ ABC (July 20, 2006). "Bush’s ‘Hands-On’ Diplomacy With German Chancellor Raises Eyebrows". ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2214892. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ Reuters (September 7, 2007). "Bush shows gift of gaffe at APEC summit". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUSPAR75418520070907. Retrieved January 20 2009.
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama.html
- ↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_the_United_States
- ↑ Oneill, Lisa (January 28, 2009). "Hey Bam, that’s not the door!". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2009/01/28/2009-01-28_hey_bam_thats_not_the_door.html.
- ↑ LiveScience.com (January 14, 2002). "Obama Gaffe: America Didn’t Invent Automobile". CNN. http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/obamagaffeamericadidntinventautomobile. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
- ↑ 27.0 27.1 Saltonstall, David (March 7, 2009). "London aghast at President Obama over gifts given to Prime Minister Brown". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2009/03/06/2009-03-06_london_aghast_at_president_obama_over_gi.html.
- ↑ "Obama’s Gifts to Brown Irk British Media". NPR. March 6, 2009. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101561670. Retrieved March 14, 2009.
- Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV, Alan Schroeder
- Mark Crispin Miller, The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder (W.W. Norton)
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