On August 11, 1984, United States President Ronald Reagan, while running for re-election, was preparing to make his weekly Saturday radio address on National Public Radio. During a sound check before the address, Reagan made the following joke to the radio technicians:
My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
The joke was a parody of the opening line of that day's speech:
My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied — the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do.
Contrary to popular misconception, this microphone gaffe was not broadcast over the air, but rather leaked later to the general populace. But the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported in October 1984 that the Soviet Far East Army was placed on alert after word of the statement got out and that the alert was not withdrawn until 30 minutes later. An unnamed aide to US Representative Michael Barnes ;(D–MD) confirmed that the Pentagon was aware of the alert. There was no report of any change in the DEFCON level for the United States. The Soviet reaction, and mild confusion it created, was covered by NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.
This was not the first time Reagan had joked before giving a speech or address. The Soviet official news agency, TASS, condemned the joke, declaring that "The USSR condemns this unprecedented and hostile attack by the US President" and that "this kind of behavior is incompatible with the great responsibility borne by heads of nuclear states for the destinies of their own people and mankind".