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Open Mic

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Jamie Donald | 16:46 UK time, Tuesday, 18 July 2006

‘Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey...’

The Daily Politics logoEveryone at The Daily Politics is humming the old Searchers hit after hearing the ‘open mic’ tape of George Bush and Tony Blair chatting informally at the G8 summit.

‘Yeah, he is sweet’ says Bush at one point. ‘He’s honey’, Blair replies.

We don’t know who they’re talking about – is it President Assad of Syria – and we’ve had a big argument in the office over whether Blair says ‘he’s honey’ or in fact says ‘he’s had it’. Our reporter Giles Dilnot, no mean hand with a mike, is convinced only the later interpretation makes sense of the whole exchange. Click here to listen and make up your own mind.

Is 'Yo! Blair' a friendly greeting from Bush to an equal, or patronising and disrespectful? Our linguist – Dr. Colleen Cotter from the University of London and an American to boot – thought it was just what you’d expect of two old mates kicking back at a summit. Some of the British papers this morning are more sceptical.

George Bush and Tony BlairAnd is ‘shit’ a good way to sum up what’s happening in Lebanon? Bush uses it (though on air we bleeped it out) and our linguist thought it was exactly the kind of language you’d expect in private conversation between friends. Again the papers disagree, some believing it say more about the American president’s grasp of diplomacy than the Middle East.

And then there’s the sweater. Or should that be jumper. Nick Clegg, the great Liberal Democrat hope, thought Tony had made a classic fashion mistake by picking out knitwear for George when the weather is so hot here and in Texas. But in the office we reasoned that if an American billionaire give John Prescott cowboy boots and a Stetson then Burberry is the only riposte.

Open mike cock-ups are legendary, and make fantastic talking points. Remember John Major calling half his cabinet ‘bastards’ when he thought the tape wasn’t rolling – or Prince Charles thinking he was too far away for reporters to hear him describing the BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell as an awful man.

The Blair-Bush exchange tops them both in my view, because it will be picked over for weeks for meaning, and for clues about one of the most important relationships in the world.

Jamie Donald is editor of live political programmes

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 05:52 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

I've had to laugh at the somewhat puritanical reaction to President Bush using the word "shit". He may be the most powerful man on earth, but he is after all only another one of the six billion or so human beings on earth – many more of whom cuss than smoke or drink, I daresay.

  • 2.
  • At 06:07 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I can assure you that you _do_ need knitwear in Texas: the air conditioning is so strong that you need a sweater to keep warm at work!

I have cleaned up the sound file using a well know piece of audio software, and this is the acurate transcript:

Blair: What does he think? He thinks, Lebanon turns out fine, we get a solution in Israel/Palestine, Iraq goes the right way..

Bush: Yeah. He strugglin’…

Blair: He’s had it…. That’s what this whole things about.

And who do you think they are taking about? Kofi Annan?

Bush makes for good comedy.

  • 5.
  • At 08:32 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Stephen Glynn wrote:

'He's honey' can, of course, be used in a less than flattering manner to indicate that someone's sweet and thick.

Well I'm not sure why 'shit' was bleeped out on TDP when News24 broadcast it and repeated the term.

Personally I'm hoping use of the word means we have look forward to Paxman interviewing our supreme leader after greeting him with Yo, Blair!

Newsflash: Two adults have frank discussion about the Middle East and one of them uses a swear word.

So they do swear? What a scandal! That makes them just as bad as, well, almost all of us!

I couldn't believe that so much airtime was given to coverage of discussion between Blair and Bush at the G8 talks, but it wasn't that I hadn't any interest in what they said about the conflicts, it was the media's silly reaction to the whole matter. 'Bush talks with mouth full', 'Bush says situation is shit', now the body language experts are out in force examining Blair's stance and positioning in comparison to Bush's. Do Blair's frequent eye movements mean he feels inferior to President Bush, do they mean he feels empathy, or do they mean he is simply blinking too much for a perfectly rational reason?

Let me tell you, at least those two men are talking about solving the problem, and this footage shows that they are as eager to calm the situation in private as they are in front of the world's press. I've been reading comments from some members of the public who think that this is an example of Bush making a fool of himself. I think it's done him a favour; not only does he appear to be on the ball, but he's relaxed and focusing on the issue. This shows the truth which is that George Bush is a lot more intelligent and focused that he is ever given credit for. I hate ending sentences in prepositions but that one was unavoidable.

And for the record, what Bush said in private was correct. It is shit that people are dying and it's time we focused media attention on the problem and the possible solutions and not whether George Bush speaks with his mouth full.

  • 8.
  • At 08:56 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Bush says "he's through", to which Blair replies "he's had it". Listen again!

  • 9.
  • At 09:00 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Manjit wrote:

As you’re in charge of the Daily Politics, I just wondered why you felt the need to patronise your viewers with those silly cartoon/noises that you have each day on the show? Is that the BBC's attempt to make politics more inclusive and appeal to a younger audience? One would expect most of your audience to be of sensible mind so can we have straightforward analysis of the day’s political news rather than the silly cartoon's please? Or do the BBC's various focus group's inform you that is what viewers want?

I look forward to hearing from you.
Regards.

p.s the linguist expert Dr Colleen Cotter analysis was excellent, a few newspaper journalist and columnists would do well to adhere to her comments.

  • 10.
  • At 09:19 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Mick wrote:

I think it sounds like Mr Blair said 'he's honey'.

Also, if Mr Bush thinks the current crisis in the Middle East is "shit", I'd like to know what he REALLY thinks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...

  • 11.
  • At 10:35 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • David M wrote:

It's clear (based on the BBC's video subtitles) that the conversation actually was: BUSH: "He's through." BLAIR: "He's had it." As to who they were referring to, it appears to have been Kofi Annan, who was mentioned just a few sentences earlier in the same conversation. It is somewhat worrying, although not entirely surprising, that this seems to be their opinion of Annan's lot if he succeeds in achieving a ceasefire in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as solving existing conflicts (Iraq) or avoiding potential conflicts (Iran). Doesn't that just tell you all you need to know about politicians??

  • 12.
  • At 11:03 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Ray Baker wrote:

This is underhanded reporting, the conversation was private and should have remained private! The reputation of the media is further damaged by these tactics. Okay it's a funny story, but that's no reason to publish it.

  • 13.
  • At 11:11 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Rohan wrote:

I think Bush said 'he's screwed' and Blair retorted 'he's had it'.
Why would Bush say 'he's sweet' with regard to Assad? doesn't make sense to me.

  • 14.
  • At 11:24 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • David McAlpine wrote:

It's really sinister to see that the so-called "transcript" of this conversation has been altered from the original version that appeared on the BBC website yesterday. A version similar to the one now appearing on this site has appeared in all the major print newspapers, as if it was "cleaned up" for mass consumption. Things like "he's sweet" and "he's honey" have been substituted for phrases like "he's struggling" and "he's had it" There are a lot of us out here who are simply not buying this!!

  • 15.
  • At 04:02 AM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

When a news organization is at a complete loss for a truely insightful analysis of events and the people behind them, they will take on any meaningless bit of gossip and try to read far more into it than is really there. The whole thing doesn't add up to a hill of beans. Not even a small hill of beans.

  • 16.
  • At 07:01 AM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

To me the different reactions to the discussion are interesting. The New York Times headlines it "Undiplomatic Language", but omits almost everything about the middle-east. The words before Blair appeared were between Bush and the Russian and Chinese leaders, who were seated either side of the US President. Bush revealed that he apparently thought the Chinese leader was - in St Petersberg - only a short flight from home, and was comforted to be told it was as long a flight as his own. The man still doesn't know where China and Russia are on the globe?

"Yo" is said, in the NYT, to instead be "Yeah". I imagine "Yo" is too "street", too "rap" to be believable to such American ears. Blair is revealed to have been hailed whilst walking past (on the way to where?), so the conversation was not at his instigation, unless he is very indirect at such events. To hear the British premier being the only one, of the four leaders present, to raise a political matter, and indeed an urgent one, and be given somewhat short shrift by Bush, and have no response by either of the other two, surely is interesting? Was he being too "eager", speaking at the wrong time? Are those "minder-less" moments at such conferences not supposed to be for the floating of informal initiatives? Was he the one most "plugged in" to the happenings away from the conference? Was he instead, as 'The Independent' characterised him, desperately pleading with Bush to be allowed to fly in and try to play peacekeeper (as the French premier very shortly tried)? Not having instigated the conversation that seems less likely. Doesn't him raising such an idea fit his proposal, a few years ago, of international intervention before situations deteriorated into ones where human rights were being abused and thousands needed to seek refuge in other countries? Did it really seem so unexceptional to him to hear the US President talking of ordering the UN Secretary General about and expressing such one-sided and simplistic ideas of the sources of the pressures behind the violence? Could he have been trying to see if the presence of the Chinese and Russian leaders would elicit a more thoughtful response from the US President to that he is used to getting in private?

I would have been interested in hearing what former ambassadors, and former translators at such events, and those as practised as our prime minister at working political events, would have said about the exchanges. About the substance, the indications of character and standing, rather than simply the words.

We need more such "open mics", and when we get them, to learn everything we can from them.

It would be interesting if the BBC did a top 50 'open mic' mistakes from the past ten years. I remember Dick Cheney saying something during the Presidential elections, Britney Spears on a disney float. Perhaps even let readers rank them and publish the results.

  • 18.
  • At 08:06 AM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Ginter wrote:

"shit" is the only word that Bush had in mind, and it is one of the most descriptive words in his vocabularies as in ours. We just use it often to replace "very bad".

After this and the lipreaders needed to hear Zidane, enough is enough. Before inaudibility gets in the way of the news again, we need all public figures to start wearing radio mics at all times. In perpetuity.

  • 20.
  • At 11:29 AM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Dale Whitaker wrote:

Your frenzy over the leak of a private conversation compares extremely unfavourably with Pepsi-Cola's recent decision to have no truck with leaking of Coca-Cola's confidential information. The title of the following blog - Taste and Decency - seems very appropriate.

  • 21.
  • At 03:10 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

In thread after thread on this blog site, BBC has troubled itself over the pronunciation of words. I am certain they know the proper pronunciation of the word "shit" as in the expression "Oh shit!" After all, they must have used it themselves again and again after so many of their prognostications have failed to materialize as they predicted and their policies blown up in their faces as cited in the Hutton report or in the reaction to their recent demands for pay raises for their top executives.

Isn't it clear? Bush and Blair are simply debating the latest series of Big Brother...

  • 23.
  • At 07:35 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Phil. wrote:

Dave Stewart wote: "Let me tell you, at least those two men are talking about solving the problem".

Oh yes? I'm listening to the latest news reports right now (Wednesday evening, 19 July). Noreal action, so far…

Phil.

  • 24.
  • At 08:26 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Micah - USA wrote:

I don't mind the use of "shit." I even find it refreshing. More troubling is the further evidence of W's limited understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East. He demonstrated that his talk of good vs. "evil doers" is not just spin for American red state rednecks, but represents his simplistic black/white worldview. As an American, i am embarrassed by his talking while chomping on a roll, limited vocabulary, and generaly boorish nature. He is the worst of all American sterotypes, the thickskulled, straight talking, gum chewing cowboy. As an admirer of the UK and former Blair fan, I am embarrassed for you all. If you did not believe Blair to be a mere Bush puppit before, can there be any question now? Yo, Blair. The pain in Blair's face was palpable as he attempted to have an intelligent conversation. He reminded me of a spineless parent trying to instruct a spoiled, bully of a child. France is laughing at both of our leaders at this point.

  • 25.
  • At 09:39 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Jamie Donald is editor of live political programmes

Can you say how open microphones are handled in your programmes? Do your technicians ensure they are never open without cause? Do you have to sign contracts that nothing such will be allowed, no recordings will be kept? Or are those in front of your mics (or, for that matter silent cameras, now lip readers are legitimate assistants) on notice that they should not say anything they might not mean to be broadcast?

  • 26.
  • At 10:48 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • hahaha wrote:

"Bush makes for good comedy."

Not as much as the sheep who bash him on silly grounds. Randal S we're looking in your direction

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