Video: U.S. President Barack Obama got his geography confused while campaigning in 2008.
With the stress that comes with being in the public eye, it’s no surprise that well-known figures sometimes make mistakes when it comes to things like geography.
But sometimes these gaffes are so obvious and so wrong — like when Gob from Arrested Development said that Portugal was “down old South America way” — that they garner more media attention than the guilty parties can likely stomach.
We’ve compiled a list of the six worst high-profile geography gaffes over the past five years that will make you laugh, cry and, just maybe, grab an atlas to bone up on your own geography skills.
1. Peter MacKay says British Columbia borders California
Defence Minister Peter MacKay received quite a bit of mainstream and social media attention in 2011 for a gaffe he made while talking to then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Winnipeg stop of his cross-Canada tour.
MacKay happened to forget a couple of states when he told Schwarzenegger and the audience that British Columbia and California border each other.
“California and British Columbia have a shared border, a strong relationship. And some would say that our countries are probably as close as any two nations on the planet,” MacKay said.
Now, of course, in reality Washington and Oregon are nestled nicely between California and British Columbia, a fact that the Governator politely reminded MacKay of after the statement.
2. Rob Ford mistakes Winnipeg for Windsor
The ever-newsworthy Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can’t seem to go more than one week without making a triumphant return to the front page of newspapers across the country. His collection of gaffes is prolific to say the least but one geography blunder back in 2012 stands out as being particularly egregious.
While visiting Chicago for a trade mission, Ford took the time to chat with pedestrians on the city’s street, hearing their stories and encouraging them to visit Toronto.
One couple Ford encountered told him that they had visited Canada once before and had travelled to the city “where you go across Detroit and the River.”
“Oh, Manitoba. Have you ever been to Winnipeg?” Ford asked.
Of course, Winnipeg is nowhere near Windsor — they’re 1,800 kilometres apart — nor is Manitoba accessible by crossing the Detroit River.
3. Obama counts too many states
During Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for presidency, the U.S. president made hundreds of stops across the United States, spreading his message of hope and change. The Harvard-educated, former professor of constitutional law no doubt has a sound grasp of his country’s geography, but one campaign-stop gaffe likely made some people scratch their heads.
At a campaign event in Beaverton, Oregon, Obama claimed to have visited more states than actually exist.
“I’ve now been in 57 states,” Obama said (see video above). “I have one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii, I wasn’t allowed to go to.”
We can only assume Obama made a slip of the tongue, intending to say he had travelled to 47 states and had one more to go.
4. Obama confuses the Gulf Coast
About five years and two presidential elections later, Barack Obama was back at it in August with another geography gaffe on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno while talking about the need to widen American ports along the Gulf of Mexico.
“If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf — places like Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia or Jacksonville, Florida — if we don’t do that, ships are going to go someplace else,” Obama explains to Leno.
While the need for deeper ports may be real concern, the problem with that statement is that all of those places the president mentioned are not on the Gulf Coast — they’re on the Atlantic Coast.
Was this a gaffe or was Obama talking about ports in the Gulf as well as those three places? That entirely depends on whom you talk to.
5. MSNBC misplaces four different cities on one map
Graphics gaffes are always a hazard when putting together an on-the-fly television newscast. But in August, MSNBC made a huge cartography blunder when they aired a map of President Obama’s bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania.
The map marks the locations of Buffalo, Binghamton, Syracuse and Scranton — all stops along Obama’s trip. The problem, however, was that not one of those cities was marked in the right place. In fact, some appeared hundreds of kilometres from where their real-life counterparts are actually located.
Syracuse, Buffalo and Binghamton all appeared to be located in the Adirondacks, apparently closer to Albany than their actual locations. In reality each city is located much farther upstate.
Scranton’s location was also completely wrong, placed in almost the middle of Pennsylvania when in reality it is located in the northeast.
Hundreds of screenshots of the blunder were captured and viewers quickly took to Twitter to poke fun.
6. Nike’s North Carolina Panthers shirt
Sometimes hilarious geography gaffes are the result of unfortunate hiccups in design or manufacturing processes, producing comical collectors items. Manufacturer mistakes happen fairly regularly but, as Nike found out this year, when you’re as a big a company as they are, the media tends to takes notice.
Nike released a new Carolina Panthers shirt to the public this past July, made available on the company’s website. At first glance the shirt appeared to be just like any other t-shirt for an NFL team; the shirt shows the Panther’s logo and the letters “NC” placed inside the shape of the squad’s home state.
The problem was that “NC” stands for North Carolina, which is where the Panthers are from — Charlotte, to be exact — but the shape of the state that appeared on the shirt was, in fact, South Carolina.
Needless to say, fans and media outlets across the country let Nike know about the mistake pretty quickly, and the company has since pulled the shirt from their website and apologized for the mix-up.
The Panthers fans who were quick enough to buy the infamous t-shirt now posses a rare collectors item — and a reminder of why paying close attention to geography is so important.