Macaca and media

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

"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.