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Biggest Gaffes, Blunders, Faux Pas, Snafus, Misstatements, And Missteps Of 2014

  • Grant Podelco

Participants march by as one of the Olympic rings fails to completely illuminate during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7.

Participants march by as one of the Olympic rings fails to completely illuminate during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7.

Bad news abounded in 2014. Ukraine, Syria, Ebola, Islamic State, Boko Haram, the South Korean ferry disaster. So let's focus on the lighter side of 2014, those instances where famous folks endured public humiliation or embarrassment, suffered severe cases of foot-in-mouth disease, exercised poor judgment, or displayed plain old ignorance. In no particular order…

'No Gays In The City'

In an interview with the BBC ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the mayor of the Russian host city of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, said there were no homosexuals in his city. While he said gay people were welcome to attend the Winter Games, "we do not have them in our city."

Rodman Rant

In an angry interview with CNN in January, flamboyant former NBA player Dennis Rodman appeared to suggest that American missionary Kenneth Bae had done something wrong to justify his incarceration without charge by North Korea. "Kenneth Bae did one thing.... Do you understand what he did?" Rodman shouted. Rodman, who has said he "loves" North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, never specified what he thought Bae had done and later apologized for his comments, saying he had been drinking. Bae was released by Pyongyang on November 8.

Biden's Blunders

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is famous for his faux pas. He didn't disappoint in 2014. In September, he referred to unscrupulous bankers who prey on military men and women deployed overseas as "Shylocks," an anti-Semitic slur.

He later admitted it had been a poor choice of words. He also had to eat crow and call the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, and the Turkish president to "clarify" remarks he had made that implied that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia were supporting Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria and that Ankara was allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.

Just be glad you weren't in White House spokesman Josh Earnest's uncomfortable shoes as he tried to defend Biden's many misstatements to the White House press corps.

No 'Respect'

Meanwhile, Biden's boss, U.S. President Barack Obama, did not escape the year without committing a few eye-rollers of his own. He sparked a hurricane's worth of partisan political blowback by admitting that "we don't have a strategy yet" for combatting the Islamic State group in Syria. He also embarrassingly misspelled "Respect" during a tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin, and was accused by Republicans of disrespecting the military after the White House posted a short video clip on Instagram of Obama awkwardly saluting Marines while holding a paper coffee cup in his hand. It quickly went viral under the hashtag #LatteSalute

Screwing Up, Royally

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "extremely sorry and very embarrassed" for remarks he was overheard to be make about Queen Elizabeth II. Cameron was recorded telling former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the queen had "purred down the line" when he telephoned her to tell her that Scottish voters had rejected a referendum on independence.

'Can You Hear Me Now?'

In other you-weren't-supposed-to-hear-that news, a private telephone conversation widely believed to be between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, was leaked to the world back in early February as Nuland was leading U.S. efforts to negotiate some sort of solution to the festering Ukraine crisis. On the recording, someone who sounds a lot like Nuland can be heard to say, "F**k the EU," disparaging what she saw as the European Union's lackluster stance in the crisis. While never acknowledging that it was Nuland's voice on the tape, the U.S. State Department nevertheless said that Nuland had "been in contact with her EU counterparts and, of course, has apologized for these reported comments."

Shady Deal

Ukraine's Vitali Klitschko probably thought he was doing good when he and other opposition leaders signed a deal on February 21 with then-President Viktor Yanukovych aimed at quelling the crisis but which allowed Yanukovych to remain in power through the end of 2014. Protesters on the Maidan were outraged, with one -- 26-year-old Volodymyr Parasyuk -- taking the stage to denounce Klitschko and others for "shaking hands with this killer." Yanukovych, apparently unnerved by the angry protesters, fled the capital that same night. Klitschko later returned to the Maidan stage and apologized for shaking hands with Yanukovych.

Happy Freaking Holidays

Cameron's predecessor, Tony Blair, was chewed up and spit out by the Internet earlier this month when his 2014 Christmas card -- a portrait of Blair and his wife, Cherie, and the phrase "Season's Greetings" -- was revealed to the world on social media. While Cherie is smiling and wearing a festive red dress, Blair appears to have been caught in mid-grimace, his teeth bared. Some Twitterati compared Blair to Nosferatu, while others called his pose "scary," "creepy," "menacing," and "fabulously awkward," and prompted more than one commentator to wonder what the rejected photos looked like.

Chilly Reception

"Foreign Policy" called him Russia's "Don Juan-in-chief." Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently divorced his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila, was seen placing a shawl or blanket over the shoulders of the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, during November's APEC summit in Beijing. Peng smiles graciously at Putin but almost immediately slips off the shawl and hands it to a waiting staffer. The awkward encounter was broadcast live on Chinese state TV but was later reportedly censored by the Beijing authorities.

Hot Water Over Hitler

Speaking of Putin, at least two world figures got into hot water for comparing the Russian leader to Hitler for sending Russian troops into (and later annexing) Crimea.

During a private conversation with a Jewish survivor of World War II, Britain's Prince Charles reportedly said that "Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler." The Russian Embassy in London called the remarks "outrageous." At a closed-door fund-raiser, former U.S. first lady and probable 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that if Putin's stated reason for his Crimea annexation -- protecting ethnic Russians on the peninsula -- "sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the '30s." She later clarified her remarks, saying, "I'm not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before."

Putin didn't do himself any favors when asked about Clinton's remarks, saying, "It's better not to argue with women."

French Style

French President Francois Hollande threatened legal action against the magazine "Closer" after it published photos in January of what it claimed was Hollande arriving incognito on the back of a motor scooter for what it said was a liaison with French actress Julie Gayet. Hollande was living with his partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, at the time. Trierweiler was admitted to hospital for "rest" amid the scandal. Their relationship ended a short time later.

In another embarrassing episode for Hollande, a photograph of the French leader looking sheepish while posing in a traditional Kazakh coat and furry hat became a meme on social media in December. Elysee Palace is said to have asked that the photo not be released, which of course only ensured that it would be.

Not Very Sporting

The world's two major sports events of 2014 -- the Winter Olympics and the soccer World Cup -- suffered their own embarrassing episodes this year.

During the spectacular opening ceremonies of the Winter Games in Sochi, one of five snowflakes meant to symbolize the Olympic rings failed to unfurl properly during a key moment, with all the world watching.

In a widely ridiculed move, state media quickly cut to rehearsal footage that showed all five rings properly interlocked. To make matters worse, a story began to circulate that the man responsible for the rings mishap had been found stabbed to death in his hotel room. The story was not true. (To their credit, Olympic organizers poked fun at the glitch during a portion of the closing ceremonies.)

Three bites and you're out. At the World Cup, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez was suspended from soccer for four months after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. A photo of Suarez wincing and grabbing his front teeth became one of the indelible images from the tournament. Suarez dismissed the incident, saying that Chiellini "bumped into me with his shoulder." It was the third time that Suarez had been found guilty of biting an opponent.

Open To Interpretation

Czech President Milos Zeman is famous in his own country for stumbling in public, both physically and verbally. But he really outdid himself in the expletive-filled-rant department during an interview with Czech Radio in November. Speaking of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot, he called them bitches and "f***ed up," used the word s**t, and translated the group's name into Czech by using a particularly rude word. He also asked if the interviewer knew what the first word in the group's name meant in English. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Zeman had "damaged the reputation of the presidency."

In other Zeman gaffe news, he angered many by dismissing the violent dispersal of peaceful student protests in 1989, saying the crackdown had been "no bloodbath." And he mystified European parliamentarians in Strasbourg in February when, speaking in English, he said, "My European dream does not include the steak in the center of European Commission, which looks like a bubble bum and taste like a bubble bum." Zeman said he had spoken in English to "save interpretation costs."

Not-So-Silent Partner

Speaking of Ukraine, ousted President Yanukovych, who fled the country for Russia in late February, made an unintentional funny when, in a press conference from his new home-in-exile, Rostov-on-Don, he was asked what role Russian could play in resolving the crisis. "Ukraine is our strategic partner," he said. "It was, it is, and always will be." In the same press conference, he exhibited some rather unusual behavior when, just before asking the Ukrainian people for forgiveness, he closed his eyes, appeared overcome with emotion, and then grimaced as he tried to break the pen he was holding. Weird stuff.

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    Grant Podelco

    Grant Podelco is a senior correspondent and producer on the English-language website of RFE/RL. He can be reached at PodelcoG@rferl.org

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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