News People Why Chris Uhlmann’s viral critique of Trump nearly didn’t make it to air

Why Chris Uhlmann’s viral critique of Trump nearly didn’t make it to air

chris uhlmann
From skewering Trump to being skewered on Today: Chris Uhlmann has had a busy 2017. Photo: ABC
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The Insiders piece on Donald Trump at the G20 was lucky to make it to air at all.

I’d been asked by host Barrie Cassidy to reflect on the US President’s performance and had a couple of conversations with Insiders executive producer Kellie Mayo about it.

We had just arrived in Paris, after covering the G20 in Hamburg, and were waiting for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to arrive on French President Emmanuel Macron’s plane.

There was to be a joint press conference and the time kept getting pushed back, so there should have been ample time for me to sort through the list of filing demands.

On top of the Insiders report, I had to deliver two radio news stories by 5.30am Australian time and an online story on Mr Macron before 6am.

I would also have to shoot a short piece to camera for the 7pm news, once we were inside the Elysee Palace.

But I was having equipment problems.

I planned to send the radio and online copy from the palace. I thought I had that covered because I had rented a wi-fi hub that was to act as my lifeline for filing when I was away from the sanctuary of hotels.

It had worked perfectly well in Germany, but it didn’t like France and kept giving me a stupid “limited data speed” message. I am not a tech head and wasted precious hours trying to work out what was wrong to no avail.

Frustrated, I sent a note to the online desk saying I was having “gear problems” and something had to give.

I decided to concentrate on Insiders and put the radio news stories out of my mind so that my head didn’t get cluttered.

If things are going well, I can usually map out a path to delivering something, even if it is not word-for-word of my text.

Things weren’t going well.

On trips overseas the TV crews work in a pool and the networks use a shared camera to record their “pieces to camera” or “look lives”, which are then uploaded and delivered to the various channels in Australia.

Once we cleared security at the palace and were ushered into a corner of the courtyard, the other TV journalists began to reel off their stuff. I decided to wait until the end because I had two things to do, the two-minute-long Insiders video and the 7pm piece to camera.

As the last journalist finished his piece and I was getting ready to step in front of the camera the gates opened and the PM’s car drove in. All cameras were then trained on the official welcome, then the President’s staff began ushering journalists into the palace for the press conference.

I grabbed the ABC London cameraman Niall Lenihan and asked him to quickly record the PTC for the 7pm news. We then packed up the gear and followed the others inside.

There are two constants in the meetings between world leaders: over the top security and long periods of waiting before anything happens.

We arrived in the incredibly ornate room where Mr Macron holds press conferences and waited, again. I was using the time to go over the Insiders script and, in my head, I still had plenty of time to do everything left on my list.

When the statements by the two leaders ended, I asked one of the crew what time it was in Australia.

“5.20”, he said.

“What, 5.20am?” I said, as my stomach turned over.


I rapidly explained my dilemma to the crew and, with Ten’s Achim Bormann and Niall in tow, I rushed back out into the courtyard. The guards said we couldn’t shoot there. We hurried out through security and started to set up a camera only to be told we would have to move 100 metres away to the other side of a barricade that blocked the street to the palace.

We started to set up the tripod on the other side of the barricade and the police moved us on again, to the other side of the road.

We ended up jammed between a shopfront and the edge of the road as traffic roared by, within inches of the only place I could stand.

“I can’t do it here,” I said to Achim.

“Well, you can’t do it anywhere else,” he replied.

I had the words on my iPad, so decided to knock off the first three sentences looking straight to camera. After several attempts, we recorded something useable and stopped.

In my haste, I stumbled over a few words and thought the emphasis was all wrong.

Once it was done I called Kellie.

“Just send it,” she said.

“OK, but promise me that if it looks terrible you will dump it,” I said.

“Just send it, I’ll take care of the rest,” she said.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we are now able to send video from the street in Paris but it takes time.

As the crew worked on setting up the connection, my phone rang. It was the International Desk wanting to know where my two radio news stories were. It was now 5.45am in Sydney.

I said I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it and producer Linda Gruen said she would write something for the first bulletin.

I decided to have a crack at it and started tapping out some lines on my iPad about the Turnbull/Macron meeting. I then added some thoughts about Mr Trump at the G20 lifted from the Insiders script.

I can usually email the voice directly from the my iPad if I have wi-fi connection. As far as I knew, mine still wasn’t working but I typed in the address for International Production and hit send.

I called Linda moments later, it was about 5.53am Australian time.

“Do you have my voice?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You are going to have to write a link for it.” I said.

As I hung up, Achim said the Insiders video had been sent, but they would need to send the press conference back to Australia and that would take some time.

I looked across the road.

“Is that a pub?”

“Yes,” said Niall.

“Well, let’s do it from there.”

They might get antsy about you filming outside the Presidential Palace in Paris, but they do let you drink on the street. It was a beautiful night and I was able to write my second radio news story while standing on the street, this time with a beer at my feet.

The wi-fi was working like a charm so I rang online.

“I can’t do that piece on Macron but would you like me to send something I have done for Insiders? I’ll just have to change a couple of pars.”

“Sure,” said producer Tegan Taylor.

We headed back to the hotel and I spent a couple of hours working on the package for the 7pm news and sending the voice and script. I didn’t want to call Kellie Mayo, because I knew they would be up against it getting Insiders to air, with the added problem of extra editing of my report.

I was still up at 1.30am when I got a message from Barrie Cassidy saying it had “worked a treat” and had 70 retweets by 10.30am (Australian time) which was good. I called Kellie, she assured me it looked OK, and I went to bed.

I woke up at 5am when my phone pinged and I feared the worst: somebody wanted me to redo something for the 7pm story.

But I had a host of messages from friends and colleagues saying the video had been picked up in the United States and was going “viral”.

Things got a lot busier after that.


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