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Always Assume the Mic is On


Always assume the mic is on. That mantra is essential to survival as a broadcaster, and those of us who grew up in radio know it well. Classic is the perhaps apocryphal story of the radio personality Uncle Don who finished his popular children's program, thought the microphone was off, and said about his audience, "That ought to hold the little bastards."

So do you really think that President Bush was caught unaware at the G-8 summit when his comments about how to solve the new fighting in the Middle East and his preference for Diet Coke were recorded for the world to hear? How about a different scenario: He knew that microphone was on. Let's not be too quick to label the President and the Administration as always clumsy.

Here's what was said:

With the Mideast on fire, and Bush supporting Israel's counterattacks, Bush says sotto voce to Tony Blair, "See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit." What's the benefit to the White House for this to be overheard? Plenty. Bush uses it as an opportunity to reinforce his support of Israel. The world hears him using tough Texan talk (even after he publicly apologized for his "Bring 'em on!" response regarding the opposition to U.S. troops in Iraq). And the President, so demonized worldwide, appears to be just a regular chit-chatting guy.

Writing for the Associated Press, Jeannine Aversa, surrounds Bush's "shit" comment with the lunch atmosphere, saying he uttered the swear word to Blair "as he chewed on a buttered roll." That and his stated preference to a waiter for a Diet Coke and not just a Coke further humanizes the President to some constituencies.

With Israel, Lebanon, and Gaza at war, Iraq is off the front page of my local newspaper. You need to turn to page three before you can read about the 50 Iraqis killed in a south Baghdad market district, mowed down by machine gun fire - the machine guns mounted on pickup trucks and the gunmen masked; the victims shoppers: women and children. You need to do research past your newspaper to learn that on Monday another U.S. soldier died in the Bush's Iraq War, bringing the total U.S. dead to 2,553.

Making a supposedly private conversation public draws both political and celebrity attention to Bush's remarks, taking more broadcast time and newspaper space away from the disaster that is Iraq. Maybe it was a mistake, but let's not fail to consider that "shit" really was by design.

Meanwhile, Lt. Ehren Watada waits at Ft. Lewis for his court martial, charged not just with refusing to deploy with his unit to Iraq, but also with "conduct unbecoming an officer." The Army claims that the unbecoming conduct includes "contemptuous" and "disgraceful" remarks Lt. Watada made about Bush, specifically his claim that Bush engaged in "deception" while leading America to war.

There's probably no applicable law for charging Bush with "conduct unbecoming a president," but were there, there would be plenty of evidence whether he knew the microphone was on or not.