In response to Kellyanne Conway's observations that microwave ovens can turn into cameras:

There was an article this week that talked about how you could surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways, microwaves that turn into cameras. We know that that is just a fact of modern life.
Kellyanne Conway, MARCH 13, 2017

That same evening, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith commented wryly:

Microwaves that turn into cameras a fact of modern life? Microwaves do not turn into cameras. Fox News can now confirm microwaves heat food, cameras take pictures. Microphones [sic] don't have cameras. And microphones [sic] cannot turn into cameras. Fox News now confirms.

Note that Smith used the term microphones twice here.

  • Was his usage of the term microphones a Freudian slip? Everyone is aware that microphones are used in wiretapping devices to record conversations.

Merriam-Webster defines Freudian slip as: a mistake in speech that shows what the speaker is truly thinking

  • Or did the Fox News anchor really mean that microphones do not have cameras, and cannot turn into cameras? Would [sic] itself be an error?

According to Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, sic is used to indicate an error that appears in the original text.

Sic is a Latin term meaning “thus.” It is used to indicate that something incorrectly written is intentionally being left as it was in the original. Sic is usually italicized and always surrounded by brackets to indicate that it was not part of the original. Place [sic] right after the error.

Nowadays, newsreaders and anchors read off teleprompters whose scripts, presumably, have been proofread several times. If Shepard Smith didn't misread the term, was it still an error?

  • Would it be considered a mistake to insert a [sic] when quoting Smith?

  • Is there a specific word for this type of speech error, if error it was, in broadcasting?

Related (but not a duplicate of): How do you quote a passage that has used '[sic]' mistakenly?

  • There's no way to be sure whether Smith intended to repeat "microwaves" instead of saying (twice) "microphones," but he's clearly annoyed with KellyAnne and is being sarcastic. And in these quick-response comments, they don't read from teleprompters, although they generally have a producer talking to them through an ear mic.
    – Xanne
    Apr 29, 2017 at 7:21
  • @Xanne I'm not too sure if Smith's commentary, deservedly scornful, was off the cuff. He was certainly staring straight ahead and looked as if he were reading from a teleprompter (see linked video above). Love the fact that Smith struggles with keeping a straight face.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 29, 2017 at 7:28
  • 1
    [sic] simply means "Yes, this really is what was said" -- whether that was occasioned by a Freudian slip or was actually intended is not indicated. All it means is that the reporting is not a mistake.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 29, 2017 at 8:38
  • 2
    It carries the implication that the reader may consider that there has been an error in the reporting: it's heading off any doubt the reader may have over what was really said. It doesn't imply anything about the motivation for saying what is accurately reported. That is, yes he said "microphone". We don't know why he said that. It could have been a brainstorm inserting a random thought.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 29, 2017 at 8:44
  • 1
    Considering the fact that any talking head on TV is concerned about their microphone whenever they're on, I think it's a perfectly natural slip, especially in context. I doubt we need to invoke Freud for this one. May 1, 2017 at 21:49

4 Answers 4


I think there are multiple possible ways to explain Shepherd Smith's slip of the tongue.

First I want to zoom in on this portion of Smith's words:

About whether the camera in your TV is watching. Whether the microphone in your phone is listening. Was she suggesting that about Trump Tower? And then microwaves that turn into cameras, a fact of modern life?

  1. Since the first two phrases I quoted here have parallel structure, "camera in your TV is watching" / "microphone in your phone is listening," it's possible that the words got mixed up in his head through some kind of recall exchange. So then when he intended to say "camera" later in the monologue, he accidentally swapped it out for "microphone" again. I asked a psychologist friend and they didn't know a word for this off the top of their head, but I'm curious if there is one.

  2. Maybe Shepherd Smith was merely distracted by the fact that there was a boom microphone right above his head. Sometimes things in one's peripheral vision can interfere in their thinking process and lead to a recall error.

  3. It could be a simple case of affix substitution, a speech error where one suffix is swapped for another. Since "microwave" and "microphone" are just one syllable different, this seems possible.

  4. It could indeed be a case of Freudian Slip, although I would note a few details. It wasn't a prototypical Freudian slip because, as mentioned in possibility 1, Smith had already been talking about microphones, and also because what came out of his mouth didn't turn out to be what he was really thinking. It's unlikely that he subversively intended to say "microphones don't have cameras" exactly. However, describing it as a Freudian slip is probably reasonable, and there are plenty of other cases of reporters falling victim to a Freudian Slip.

Ultimately, all we can know for sure is that Smith made a speech error and replaced "microwave" with "microphone," in a way that belies both phonetic similarities between the words and contextual relevance of the word "microphone."


It is, indeed, hard to tell whether Shephard Smith's use (twice) of "microphones" instead of "microwaves" is a "slip of the tongue"; it did bring the argument a little closer to technological possibility. Note that Kellyanne uses only the term "microwave," not "microwave oven."

Here's a link to a Wired article on the use of microwaves for surveillance, including the rejection of the idea that microwave ovens can be used for surveillance (Wired Magazine is respected on technology): Wired Magazine

The context here is that the White House has suggested (or claimed) that the Obama Administration was using various types of surveillance on Trump Tower during the transition; it fell to Kellyanne to defend the Trump White House (after months of effectively defending Trump on the campaign trail) on its claims of surveillance during the transition.

Defending this claim has been difficult, as there has been little or no evidence to support it (at least not that I've seen).

Although phones can have cameras and television sets can have cameras and record sound, Smith shows considerable annoyance with Kellyanne and uses heavy sarcasm in saying "Fox News confirms that microwaves don't turn into cameras" and "microphones don't turn into cameras"--with gravity comparable to an election night broadcast confirming state wins as they become available.

Did he do this "off the cuff"? I'm inclined to think he wasn't reading from a teleprompter, although he is likely to be listening to a producer through an ear mic. That producer would be telling him whether to move on to the next subject, hit the current subject harder, etc. Cable news depends heavily on interviews where topics, positions, questions, etc. may be worked out in advance but aren't in fact scripted (except for an opening statement).

Shephard Smith is an experienced reporter, often reporting on live news, essentially constructing the story as it takes place; he has the skills to do this well--he's knowledgeable, articulate, quick.

Note that Kellyanne talks about microwaves, not microwave ovens; and while television sets and smartphones may conceal cameras, they don't turn into cameras.

Microwave ovens aren't designed for surveillance, but microwaves themselves can be used in devices designed for that purpose, as the Wired article discusses.

  • Oh, this is interesting. You're saying that microwaves is not the same as microwave ovens. So what did she mean by that term? And Shephard Smith said "microwaves heat food", so I'm not alone in thinking Kellyanne was talking about microwave ovens.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 29, 2017 at 9:01
  • @MariL Well, it is the microwaves within microwave ovens which heat the food. He may have been being deliberately obtuse (arguing that the oven box itself doesn't do the job, the microwaves do) and then getting hung up with a malapropism.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 29, 2017 at 9:24
  • @AndrewLeach and what about Kellyann saying that microwaves turn into cameras.Wasn't she was referring to electrical appliances in the home?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 29, 2017 at 11:22
  • @Mari-LouA Yes. And Smith chose to deliberately misunderstand (as if taking her to mean the waves themselves). And then rather spoiled the effect by getting the word wrong.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 29, 2017 at 12:48
  • @Mari-LouA Indeed, from a technical point of view, microwave is not the same thing as a microwave oven. A microwave is an electromagnetic wave with a frequency roughly above 1 GHz. Microwaves can be employed for surveillance: e.g., they are employed in radars. A microwave oven is an oven which employs electromagnetic waves to heat food, and it cannot be employed for surveillance. Apr 29, 2017 at 17:04

A true Freudian slip involves a misstatement that unintentionally undermines the credibility of the assertion that the speaker or writer intended to make. The classic example of this phenomenon in my own experience was this statement in an e-mail message from the CEO of a magazine where I worked many years ago, responding to concerns that he was putting pressure on the magazine's editor in chief to go easy on a major advertiser's products:

[The corporation] and I hold editorial integrity in the highest regard. [The magazine] has not been nor will it be influenced by advisers' pressure.

Dude, they're advertisers, not advisers.

But many other instances arise that might more appropriately termed malaprops than Freudian slips. For example (also from my copious files of such instances):

This version of the Divine Comedy includes famous illustrations of climatic scenes in the story and an Introduction along with background history of the Divine Comedy.


The sensors on the gloves send the movement data back to a computer that copulates and writes a piece of music in real time.


We must stop this knee-jerk cow-towing to Muslim censorship.


Very user fiendly.


Hotmail has an attachment scanner to prevent you from downloading maleware from e-mail.

(well, maybe that was a Freudian slip, too) and

A U.S. committee that overseas foreign investments will likely recommend that President Barack Obama reverse a deal by Chinese network supplier Huawei to acquire intellectual property from a U.S startup.

(hmm—maybe that one, too) and

Kathy had been out on maternity leave the last 3 months. She is now back and rearing to go.


These devices are capable of taking steaming media content from a wide variety of sources and "slinging" it over the Internet.

Meanwhile, with regard to your question about microphones/microwaves, there is no way to tell for sure what the speaker's intentions were, but it sounds to me like a simple this-for-that braino—an unintentional and erroneous word selection with no ulterior motive hidden in plain sight. My reasons for reaching this conclusion are that the mistake doesn't reveal anything nefarious about the speaker's thought process and it is too unfunnily nonsensical to constitute a witticism.

  • Would using [sic] in the citation still be appropriate though? I was also wondering about that bit.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 11, 2017 at 19:15
  • I just don't like the hauteur of "[sic]" as a signal word. If I were quoting the transcript of the newscaster's remarks, I would much prefer this approach: "Microwaves that turn into cameras a fact of modern life? Microwaves do not turn into cameras. Fox News can now confirm microwaves heat food, cameras take pictures. Microphones [read Microwaves] don't have cameras. And microphones [same] cannot turn into cameras. Fox News now confirms." As much as I enjoy typos and brainos that make a sentence more interesting or amusing, I am humbled by the thought "There but for the grace of God go I."
    – Sven Yargs
    May 11, 2017 at 19:24

It just has no connection, at all, in any way, to a "Freudian slip".

(Typing "sic" in a quote simply means "this is not an error even though it may look like one; this has been carefully checked; the original was in error and it is not a typo here".)

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