Macaca and media

"Macaca" has gone from an obscure Latin name for a genus of macaque to a political code word for foot-in-mouth.

It all began August 11 when Virginia's Republican Sen. George Allen used the term to refer to a college student volunteering for his opponent. Allen referred to S. R. Sidarth as "macaca" at a rally in the small town of Breaks, Va.

Ten years ago that statement would likely have disappeared into the political slop trough. Unfortunately for Allen, a video of this statement was uploaded onto YouTube and hence into the political blogosphere. Allen's campaign apologized, but the term "macaca" metasticized into a political liability.

From the Internet the video made its way onto the comedy shows, then into general news coverage. A now familiar path: from YouTube to the MSM, including a think piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

How big is "macaca" now? It gets nearly 6.5 million hits on a Google search. (Few of those hits are zoological.) That's almost 10 percent of the hits you get for JonBenet Ramsey, a murder mystery has been around almost since the beginning of the popularized Internet.

Every pol must now be aware of the danger of potentially awkward statements getting You-Tubed. As one Virginia senator can attest, them's the Breaks.

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    Harry Fuller escaped from television work to be executive editor at CNET News.com.

     

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