Yesterday, Fox News host Megyn Kelly dropped the f-bomb while introducing Mike Huckabee, and the entire fifth grade — which is to say, you and me and everyone on the Internet and watching at home — cracked up. Even Huckabee himself could barely contain his reflexive chuckle at her slip. Live news will occasionally go off the rails when you can’t edit out real life, but there’s something particularly fun about cable news anchors botching lines on-air. Our love-hate (OK, a lot of hate) relationship to the stream of cable bloviation is nothing new, but the occasional egregious slip-up, followed by a flickering look of horror or a suppressed chuckle, offers a nice glimpse of self-awareness in the midst of cable news’ high-gravity/low-reaching atmosphere.
The best gaffes happen when the anchors are trying, with some gravitas, to blow a small piece of news up into a very serious segment. Here’s MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" anchor Mika Brzezinski, delivering with such utter solemnity our daily public panic: “the U.S. surgeon general is calling for immediate action to stop the rise of skin cancer. He’ll explain the cause for rising concern. Keep it right here on Morning Jew.”
Another cause for panic: Climate change will render some species extinct before we can reverse or stall its effects! You know, like the dildo, which apparently humans hunted into extinction, according to this CNN anchor.
Feel the schadenfreude wash over you when you hear venerable Tom Brokaw’s cellphone, the most base of all breaches of contemporary manners, going off like an air raid siren while he’s huffing out his analysis of the GOP’s midterm election strategy on MSNBC. “Could that be me?” he grumps, a bad Harrison Ford character come to life. Rachel Maddow tries to save him, but no dice. Because Brokaw’s dignity is so thin at this point he can’t even bear to protect it, he pretends to answer his phone.
When local news reporters lose it on air, we laugh with them. The pressure is quite high for the stakes being so low. But when our national talking heads make embarrassing mistakes, the satisfaction is exquisite. As Anderson Cooper's famous giggle fits prove, cable news is constantly one mere half-step away from self-parody. The slip of the tongue is just the gentle push it all-too-frequently demands.