Foot in mouth disease

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‘I’d better not make a mistake in this story like some people do…’

During 23 years with the BBC, and 40 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon), for our Editor Welshman Phil Parry blunders (or ‘gaffes’), whether wilful or not, have always featured prominently, and this is now highlighted by US President Joe Biden’s latest slip, when he was cut off by his advisors half-way through a rambling speech in which he made a mistaken reference to a John Wayne film.

Earlier Phil has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of history and teaching the subject is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting. 


Joe Biden’s media advisors cut him short after he got mixed up

‘Gaffes’ (as they are known in the trade) are meat and drink to journalists like me.

They can seem laughable, but often have very serious consequences.

A case in point is the number of them made by US President Joe Biden (age 80).

He is, after all, probably the most powerful man in the world, and for many Democrats their great hope in next year’s presidential contest, which is likely to be against the controversial right-winger Donald Trump.

Joe Biden likes to quote John Wayne films, or was it a Tyrone Power film?!

The latest one this week was at a Press Conference in Hanoi which came to a bizarre and abrupt end when Mr Biden’s media advisor announced there would be no questions, and jazz music interrupted his speech.

He had said: “There’s a lot of lying dog-faced pony soldiers out there about global warming”.

Mr Biden declared that it came from a line in a John Wayne film, however movie-buffs have been unable to find this in any John Wayne picture; there IS a 1952 Western called Pony Soldier, but it stars Tyrone Power not Mr Wayne, and mention is made there of a ‘Pony Soldier’, however the phrase is that it has the “….tongue of a snake”.

Joe Biden seems to be unaware of what he’s saying…

Perhaps he meant this?!

Mr Biden also told reporters in the same Press Conference: “I tell you what, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go to bed”.

This last one was, perhaps, understandable given the likely jet lag, but his media advisor was probably right to announce suddenly that there would be no questions, because you don’t know what Mr Biden might say next!

Joe Biden’s mistakes are legendary

His mistakes in the past have been legendary.

While at a pub in the Irish town of Dundalk earlier this year, Mr Biden managed to mistake the All Blacks, (New Zealand’s rugby team), for the notorious Black and Tans British paramilitary unit that fought in a terrible way against the IRA a century ago.

The gaffe was labelled “cringeworthy” or merely “unfortunate”, depending on who was doing the labelling, and it got even more attention after the White House edited the mistake out of the official transcript.

Stumbling on the steps of Airforce One does NOT look good for a president

He stumbled twice in two weeks on the stairs of Air Force One, and a slew of news stories followed.

But it isn’t simply his age which makes his advisors nervous of what he might say (although Mr Biden’s blunders seem to be coming thick and fast recently), because he has made similar slip-ups when he was younger.

Stand up Chuck Graham

In February 2009 speaking to members of the House Democratic caucus who were gathered in Williamsburg, Virginia, for their annual retreat, he proclaimed: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 per cent chance we’re going to get it wrong”.

He had, of course, to appear relentlessly upbeat and 100 per cent positive about his party’s policies.

His slips of the tongue have always been seized on by the media, and in September 2008 Mr Biden declared: “I’m told Chuck Graham, state senator, is here. Stand up Chuck, let ’em see you. Oh, God love you. What am I talking about? I’ll tell you what, you’re making everybody else stand up, though, pal!”.

Joe Biden is such a good friend of Hillary Clinton’s, and she could do the job better than him!

He then realised that Mr Graham was confined to a wheelchair.

In the same month, he suggested someone else could do the job better than him, saying: “Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be Vice-President of the United States of America. Let’s get that straight. She’s a truly close personal friend. She is qualified to be President of the United States of America. She’s easily qualified to be Vice President of the United States of America. Quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me. But she’s first rate”.

Mistakes make good copy for journalists

Yet Mr Biden giving the impression that somebody else could do the job better than he could, is not ‘first rate’.

However these sorts of gaffes make good copy – for people like me anyway…


The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (during which the mistakes of senior politicians were always reported) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!



Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.