There's an entire genre of YouTube videos that consists of nothing but news bloopers, and they're equal parts hilarious and panic-inducing.
"Right after the break, we're going to interview Erik Weihenmayer, who climbed the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, but he's gay—I mean, he's gay, excuse me, he's blind."
Back in the early 2000's a young news anchor in New Mexico had a slip of the tongue on live TV that has enterred the annals of news blooper history.
Gay Mount Everest www.youtube.com
Cynthia Izaguirre had just gotten done reporting on a separate story discussing activism for gay rights, and was setting up a segment with the first blind man to climb Mount Everest, and her thoughts got twisted on the way to her mouth, resulting in a 14-second clip that would live on in infamy.
It's such a simple moment, but—especially out-of-context—it's hard not to laugh at the emphasis she puts on the word "gay," as the big twist in the headline. It was the perfect, professional intonation for entirely the wrong word. A simple, but embarrassing mistake, made so, so much worse/funnier by the fact that it happened on live TV.
It must have been terrifying for Izaguirre, who was just getting started in the competitive field of TV news. She was reporting for the Albuquerque and Santa Fe Market, for KOAT Action 7 News, broadcasting to hundreds of thousands of homes, and a notable slip-up like that would be sure to get her bosses' attention, and had the potential to derail her budding career.
Fortunately Izaguirre was talented and personable enough that it didn't come to that. Her professional life has progressed smoothly, and today she is an anchor at WFAA in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas—one of the largest local news markets in the country, serving a population of millions every weekday. Yet, nearly 20 years later, those 14 seconds remains her greatest claim to fame.
Boom Goes the Dynamite www.youtube.com
Once upon a time that kind of mistake would have existed only for the live audience, and maybe on a few VHS copies in the area. But other than that, it would have passed on and been quickly forgotten. That's no longer the case. With the possible exception of Brian "Boom Goes the Dynamite" Collins—does college news really count?—Izaguirre's slip-up was the first of its kind in viral news anchor screw-ups.
While not quite at the level of the "Grape Lady" video—of an injured Atlanta reporter, uploaded around the same time—the clip has still been endlessly reposted, amassing millions of views. The way one wrong word cuts through her practiced poise encapsulates what is so appealing about these moments. No one is as put together and unflappable as anchors and reporters in cities around the world pretend to be for a living.
For hours each week these people put up a facade that blends approachable friendliness, earnest sincerity, and impossible professionalism. With all those components in a delicate balance, even the tiniest mistake can end up cracking through that surface—showing the sloppy, or giddy, or hateful human underneath.
Live broadcasts have always entailed some of that risk, but now that anything and everything on TV can be recorded and uploaded for the world to see, there are countless hours of these moments collected into "News Fail" compilations all over YouTube.
It's an entire genre that has swallowed up way too much of my time and mental energy. In general, these clips tend to fall into one of a four categories: falling down, cracking up, digging in, and letting loose.
News Anchor Eats Cat Vomit On-Air!! FAIL!! youtu.be
"Falling down" as a category, does often involve an anchor or reporter slipping, tripping, or otherwise falling (e.g. "Grape lady"), but it also includes technical difficulties, and—of course—slips of the tongue a la Cynthia Izaguirre.
It's anything that can go wrong and give an anchor or reporter that moment of surprise, or embarrassment—followed by the struggle to recover. In 2020 this category has evolved to include loved ones and pets interrupting the at-home broadcasts. But the ultimate example remains the Connecticut anchor who decided to playfully eat a handful of spilled grape nuts off the floor...only to realize they are definitely not grape nuts.
"Cracking up," tends to be the most wholesome, as when Mika Brzezinski learned, on air, what a "furry convention," was. When you need to keep a straight face, any corny joke or slightly funny image can break through the composure and reduce broadcast professionals to fits of irrepressible giggling while they try to pull themselves together. It's joyous, and some news teams—looking at you Today Australia—actually seem to cultivate these moments.
Mika Brzezinski Learns About 'Furries' | msnbc www.youtube.com
On the other end of the spectrum, "digging in" is when anchors and reporters get nasty. Sometimes it happens with a disagreeable guest, or a passerby who wants to interrupt the show, but more often than not, there is some underlying tension between people who work together every week, and the right trigger sets them off while they're live on-air.
The classic example is a spat between a reporter and an anchor at Fox 5's NY Good Day that was preserved for posterity in 2001, before the era of Internet video. But other great examples include the Anchorage reporter who quit at the end of her segment with an ad-libbed "**** it," or an anchor in Philadelphia letting their "playful jabs" at a meteorologist reach the level of high school bullying.
These are the moments that remind you that you aren't watching cheerful news robots reciting current events. These are just people at their jobs, with all the mundane frustrations and in-fighting of a workplace stewing beneath the surface.
But the most distilled form of the news blooper—the ones that explain both why these clips are so appealing to weirdos like me, and why they must be nightmares for the people involved—are the "letting loose" clips. These are the purest peek behind the curtain—when people don't know they're being watched, and let their true colors show.
Sometimes that just means getting caught daydreaming or fixing their hair. Other times that means shouting and swearing, and has lost some people their jobs. It's Bill O'Reilly being violently incapable of understanding the phrase "play us out," when recording an episode of Inside Edition. And it's also Isiah Carey on location in Arkansas, instantly dropping his news voice when a bug flies into his mouth, telling his production team "I'm dying in this ****ing country-ass, ****ed up town."
News Reporter swallows bug then loses it. Funny! Isiah Carey clip. www.youtube.com
That moment is often referred to as Carey "turning ghetto," but in reality this whole category is about code-switching. To one extent or another, we all adjust our behavior to fit a particular context.
Those of us with social anxiety tend to be hyper-aware of the performative aspect of socializing, and can start to panic that the performance will falter, and we'll be unmasked as frauds to our intense shame.
From that perspective, there's something cathartic about being reminded that even the people who code-switch at a professional level—who put on a live public performance every working day of their lives—occasionally falter.
On the other hand, taking a moment to consider how horrifying that exposure must be for people whose livelihood depends on successful fraud—the fact that careers can be damaged or even destroyed in these moments, leaving just a painful and public memory—can kind of put a damper on the whole genre. If I allow myself to empathize, most of these clips are like little living nightmares, far worse than showing up to school in your underwear...
But since that's a bit of a dark note to close on, here's a clip of two Philadelphia anchors laughing hysterically at Ryan Lochte:
Ryan Lochte Interview Makes Anchor Cry! www.youtube.com
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