"Macaca" (2006) w/ Peter Hamby
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You deserve and get it for less at brooklyn go to brooklyn and dot com and use promo code radio topa to get twenty dollars off with a minimum purchase of one hundred dollars. That's b. r. o. o. k. l. i n. n. dot com and enter promo code radio. Topa for twenty dollars off with a minimum purchase of one hundred dollars. That's brooklyn dot com promo code radio. Tovia hello and welcome to this day in esoteric. Political history from radio topa. My name is jody advocate this day august tenth. Two thousand six. The incident actually happened on august eleventh. Two thousand six. George allen was on a campaign. Stop in drake's virginia near the kentucky border george. Allen was running for reelection as virginia senator. He had also been virginia's governor but today he stephan it because on this day in two thousand and six. He was caught on camera. What was he caught on camera doing peter hamby he was saying. Give big welcome to my friend macaca over here. Welcome to america. And the real world of virginia or something. Something like that. That is of course. The voice of peter hamby who we have on because he does such good george allen impersonation buddha's the george allen in the world but now peter hamby is political journalist host of good luck america at snapchat contributor to the new outlet puck news but also i think a great fit for this conversation because he is to my mind one of the best chroniclers of how new media and new technology has transformed politics and that in many ways is what the story is about an early viral moment. That truly changed an important election. So peter hamby. This is your formal intro. Thank you for doing this. Thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. I'm happy to geek out on this. Yes and also virginia native which we which we can get into as well nicole hammer and kelly card jackson are here is always hello. Nicki hello kelly hello jody. Hey there and a quick shot to our listener. Jacob barisan for suggesting that we do this or reminding us that we should do this. Thank you jacob. Thank you to our listeners. Who give us suggestions so peter. Let's talk about this a bit as a media moment I suppose one thing we should define is. There is a person by the name of s sedov. Who's very young just out of college. Maybe still in college and he is at this. George georgiana event in the capacity of what is known as a tracker. So what is what does he tracker. And how does it fit into this political moment. Yeah that's a great question because it really signals a pivot and campaign. politics trackers are pretty commonplace now and they might not. They might even be obsolete because they're just cameras everywhere all the time but In the two thousand six race trackers were pioneered by democratic campaigns who were increasingly at least among younger. More clever staffers using the internet and in video In a way that republican campaigns weren't yet and so s ours. Dr who was an undergrad. Uva fairfax was in south west virginia with george allen And i went back and looked at this. He had just been following tracking allen's campaign for like five or six days before. This macaca moment happened. Would basically he would stand in the back of a rally you know sometimes with the press corps sometimes when the press corps wasn't even there as i think was the case with this incident just recording on a mini. Dv camera everything candidate said. And then he would you know hustle to fed ex drive all the way back to campaign headquarters and drop off the video and do this every single day for the entire campaign and then in on behalf of the opponent jim on behalf of jim. Webb's campaign And then not became more commonplace in racism in the coming years and so this moment with Alan is he notices that. This guy has been showing up at all events and tracking him. And what is you know. You said it in the intro but sort of describe wh allen. It's funny. I went back and watched the macaca video still on youtube Barely has a million views But you know was the first big youtube moment in politics. And he's sort of standing there. You see him through As a sitar of slight grainy video and he starts out. He's in south west virginia now taken for granted as a republican stronghold is basically appalachia back then. Though in virginia democrats could be competitive down there so candidates. We're going to south west virginia. A lot and allen is talking to this crowd and says we're going to run this campaign on positive ideas that bring people around. And then he. Immediately pivots swivels out and waves finger around at the tracker and says we got this guy out here he points at him his name macaca or something and then he rambles on for fewer minutes. And then he's making the point that his opponent jim webb. Who's actually from virginia. Even though george allen grew up in california doesn't come to the real. America doesn't come to south west. Virginia where we have certain ideals and then he turns back to sr darth again and says so everyone give a big welcome to macaca out here. Welcome to the real america. Welcome to real virginia and then that's the clip and the web campaign basically clip that and ship it out in an email to political reporters a few days later and this becomes a huge story Darth is not white and this was Macaca was not a word that most people had heard but it was quickly Revealed be a uses a racial slur and so it it puts the issue of allen's racism or this racist comment at the center of the general election And it's not just that he said it but that there's tape of it and so that tape gets played again and again which helps to cement this moment and this image in the minds of voters. It was really interesting. I was working at cnn. At the time. I was working on a show as a producer on a segment about the internet and politics. Which is which is really treated as a funny little trinket on the side at the time by cnn and establishment politics the internet. I mean not central to the way it's It matters in politics. Now and that segment i worked on got killed all the time by producers. Because they're like we don't have time for this. It's just the internet but then because this video is perfect for cables perfect for washington cable specifically And there was a debate inside cnn. That i remember. I was junior junior at the time. But you know we had pretty rigorous like standards and practices and legal department and it was like. Can we verify this. Video is real. We don't even know because it was youtube and this was a year after youtube was invented and the the brass and the older folks at cnn just didn't get like this thing even though it obviously look credible and so once it got approved it was looped over and over and over and over again and then yeah macaca. It was interesting to the word itself. Wasn't like common place as a racial slur. And i remember being at cnn and people. Were googling it then know to do and like we kind of waited till the washington post wrote their story the next day's like use their definition of it but it just sounded like something like rich white guy would say in private at a cocktail party writer. My move you like. You're racist on like swilling champagne or something at a party. This that's what it sounded like. And then what you just said nicole that race the web allen race that was a democratic year in the end but it started out web was an underdog he was trailing by eight nine. Ten twelve points in the polls virginia wasn't yet what it is now. It's basically a blue purple to blue state. It was still back and forth between republicans and democrats and mostly republican but then that video just started to call attention to this race and his people peel back more layers about george allen all of these other sort of racists things came up he worked confederate flag pin and his high school yearbook. When he was governor of virginia a few years earlier he replaced the only black board member at uva with a white board member. He passed like a confederate heritage proclamation. And so you know if you're a female suburban voter in northern virginia. You're like wait this guy. And then the race got much closer after that video went viral and the way videos went viral back. Then i think it's interesting to me how How everything got to sort of hyper racialist. But not only that. How he he said it twice. You know. he doesn't as a throw away and it's it's not clear if he's like referring to him as a name or as a name for name like it's just not clear. There's just a lot of ambiguity about that. So i mean but i also think that given the moment in which he says it or sort of those it out there. If this had happened in any other moment would this have been so controversial I'm not sure. I mean. I don't in some ways i say maybe it gets tucked under the rug or maybe it gets exploded and he gets cancelled in. That's that's like the whole thing that happens. The first of all the other angles here is that george. Allen grew up the son of a rich. Nfl coach it went to high school in southern california in venice like and was at this rally in south west virginia telling someone who was born in virginia even though he was of indian descent. His parents were immigrants. But he grew up in fairfax went to public schools in virginia went to uva. And this guy is on stage and south west. Virginia pretending to be you know just one of the folks like pointing at this actual person from the commonwealth So there's that and then yeah. I tend to think that this wouldn't be as big a deal today. I mean one. The internet angle to it made it new and interesting in different for the press in two know there was just like more of a know. Pre trump there was there more boundaries and politics and morning like norms. I hate that word but today you know. Republican members republican members of congress. Say things like that all the time. Republican activists are on camera saying things like that all the and even if they do rise to level controversial There have always been twenty four hour news cycles. But this just you know goes into the ether. After a few days back then local media was more robust so you had reporters following these people around in states during campaigns and asking follow up questions and follow up questions and dig up new angles. You know there are more You know i hate to say this more enterprising national journalists who would back then spend the time going to you know. Look into allen's background and now we live more in like journalism take culture where people aren't really like leaving their desks and following these candidates around and asking questions and digging into their past. And so yeah i think there. It was just harder for allen to overcome this on especially because there were more scandals that came out later in in the race that helped drag him down. And just we've seen just in recent years. People willfully mispronounced harris's name. I mean you know. This kind of stuff is happening politicians. There are still playing with this. I would say intentionally. But winking lii in the way that i think alan alan was the difference though and i think is so fascinating. Is you know that you could potentially make the case that alan didn't really know what he was stepping into that. This whole world of trackers was new this hole in his head. He may be still thought. Oh this is a small event. Where i can be a little free a little freer and i can let my inner racist come out a little bit and then you know. He quickly learned the lesson. And i'm curious. Peter you know. What kind of lesson did this incident teach to other politicians and have they learned that lesson. Because i still find myself amazed. Politicians say anything at all under this. This idea that everyone in the world is going to hear this almost immediately but politicians seem to maybe have not learned that lesson. No and i do think one lesson candidates in politicians of learned is like. There's always a camera on you and you can ignore this cameras and clam up or to say nothing or give like a polite soundbite or you can lean the other direction. Just go all in and like matt. Gaetz or margie. Taylor green and just like lean into every cameron say like flagrant things all the time and get attention that way like there's a there's a perverse reward system in that in that way but yeah i mean i think you know allen. Learn his lesson in the sense that i need to not know. Be mindful of what i say on a stage. I think you're right. He was in like rural part of the state. At the time. There weren't a lot of there certainly wasn't like a local tv network down there and breaks covering it or thought it to be valuable But in in subsequent election cycles you know two thousand eight came along the next two years. I was out covering candidates in presidential primaries in south carolina in two thousand seven and all of the primary candidates this is before obama and mccain were the nominees and the press was flying all times all of these candidates in the primaries. Sometimes i was the only person at their events from cnn. Right and like i would. I would show up at the time with a like tripod or amano pod and put on my camera and put this little. Dvd tape in. And sometimes it'd be the only person at like mike huckabee event or fred thompson event or john edwards event. And if they didn't recognize me they they they like. Who are you like. It was already getting the bloodstream that these young sometimes unpaid like staffers or volunteers were like going around with these little cameras and just made them a little more cautious and there's just such a Like guard up now between campaign staffs political staffs and the press like they don't need reporters anymore in fact they are a nuisance and This has made them even more paranoid. I think that's really interesting to me. I think about you know like often times when you when you've got the hot bike and you think you're not on and then all the sudden you say you know whatever you think won't be heard That was kind of this moment but he does you know to his credit apologize I don't know how much that helps. Dr says you know He apologized to him. He took the blame for saying he realized how offensive it was when it came off And i think now especially in a culture where apologies so aren't really apologies. You know people just like. I'm very sorry to have offended. You know like it's not. It's not necessarily sincere but he does apologize. Yeah he so. Allen went on after leading this race to lose by nine thousand votes to jim webb. Who was himself a little bit strange as a as a personality on and that that race you know they're cited control of the senate like if if web hadn't won that race republicans would have moved into the next two years Still in control the senate and he swung it and like it it put up put a punctuation mark on a big midterm wave for democrats heading into two thousand eight and you know the the election that lifted up rock obama and then allen tries to run for senate in two thousand twelve when web says. I'm only going to be a one term. He retires and alan does like an apology tour. And like it's part of his bio and his brand at this point that he's the macaca guy like he gets asked about an every interview. He apologizes for it. And there's just not really it doesn't it doesn't do anything. It just reminds people that he's the macaca guy like he's old news. He's he's old governor. He's our old senator. It was like really hard for him to make a comeback and then what would be different. Today i feel like is not that he would own the like that. He was the macaca guy necessarily but he would just start to attack the media for asking these questions he would. He would say elites are like trying to cancel me you know. That's the strategy that works in republican politics now. Not the sort of conventional. You know apology tour. I've learned i've studied You know about our nation's troubled history that that doesn't happen. One of the little wrinkle. Which i find fascinating just as you're describing. The impact of this moment is this was a look back at the calendar. Right it's august eleventh. This was literally day. One of the general election The primary had been the deep before. Or maybe even that exact same day So like it's just remarkable that the defining event happens on like our two primary and and saddam was also it was. I think day three of his job like everyone is just like stepping in it right off the bat but i've just fascinated that this happened so early and then that that race was a perfect storm for democrats to because remember the biggest issue at the time before the financial collapse was the iraq war. Right it was still being litigated. Things were going off the rails in iraq. It was basically this of war and then democrats activists especially on the internet around the time fetish. Is this idea of you. Know ideology wasn't that important. It was like biography. An image and these former republicans in these former military guys. Run it. Tough guys running as democrats in the bush era was like everything that the quote unquote net roots on. The internet wanted right and like web that he wear the boots. You wear the combat boots like. There's a famous picture of him on election day on the front page washington post with chuck. Schumer the head of the sec. And he's like holding up his combat boots on like when they called the race finally like a week after election day because it was so close anyway well as an underdog in his primary To this like establishment lobbyists type guy named harris miller. He kicked his ass in the primary. Because there's so many activists who just love jim. Webb's brand and they're like he can beat republicans in this moment and then he steps out the primary. Jody and the exactly what you say happens. It's just a reminder. That allen was running at the confluence of so much political change like virginia's changing from a red state to a blue state. The tolerance for racism in politics had taken a real real turn in just a decade before that right because as governor he was able to embrace the confederacy and confederate heritage and all those ideas and that becomes a problem for him and then the media change on top of that like it's just like everything was shifting and he was on the wrong side of every single one of those shifts. You're exactly right in a call it so so interesting. That's why i love this race. It just like there's so many different threads to poll the politics media the internet racism our political culture and one other thing i was reminded of two was that jason miller of donald trump. Communications director fame was allen's communications director or press secretary is one of the two like he was a he was basically a media strategist in republican politics in a more normal time. And he worked for allan and was going to work on allen's presidential campaign almost building a presidential campaign he was going to pivot from getting reelected in the senate running for president in two thousand eight and he was among like dc insider types like definitely a frontline. He was going to raise so much money. He was sort of a sort of a hybrid. Like bush ideolog but like from the south like he was he was an interesting candidate for political junkies and then he lost And it blew up his presidential ambitions. He came out a few months later. And said i will not run for president. Even though was already toast. Jason miller then moved to south carolina and started working for mark. Sanford who is also often who you know Also saw his career imploded to show you how all of these things are so fragile. Like at any moment you can be on top and then boop well yeah they're fragile but i think it's also don't have jason miller's communicates seems to be the big lesson here. Yeah so. I'll we wrap up. Can we take a moment to just sing. The praises of sa at arth who a is like poor kid like summer gig just like i probably paying him. I don't know if they're paying him at all but like you know he's out there. He's like driving around play very hot. You know he's Shipping off these tapes. But you know he in the wake of this. I think shows real strength in. Grace i keep hens an op-ed it is not a like you know. Seize the moment. But he uses the he doesn't like it doesn't like pick a fight but he uses the moment to pen and op ed and sort of point out like there's some deep racism in this state. This is this is a serious issue. This is revealed some things about an important race And moreover you know he kinda just like also puts his head down not sensationalized and now i think he's just kind of i think he's a lawyer. He just lives in northern virginia. You know he's just kind of like we've done with his life not to sound like a curmudgeon here but i do think you know today if a young person politics got that kind of attention very quickly you know not all of them not everyone but they would love the clout. They would love the followers they would try to spin it into. You know a career you know and restraint is something that's lost in our internet culture and and and the ability to like accept an apology sometimes or or or even politics like it's addictive like you can get you know if you're working on campaigns eric political media you know you're always seeking that next like adrenaline rush from breaking story or being on a winning race and you know for someone to do it for campaign cycle and just like okay cool. I'm done i want to go. Do something else is kind of cool. The other interesting thing is that he was at uva. And larry sabato who we all know is like a pundit guy in the political press is has a hard to get into political science class at uva and he still does and to get in. You have to write an essay and i remember sr sitar like in his junior senior year. His application for larry sabato class just said i am macaca that was and because it was obviously so famous. In virginia politics he got into the class and salvato later said he was just like one of his favorite students. He was just very smart thoughtful. Awful guy but that was that was his three word essay. Macaca if you're ever going to use your moment of theme that's right to get into work for you. Forget instagram forget. I'm getting in this class. Police i for one two professors here love love. All right well that brings us to the end of the episode. This has been really fascinating. I'm peter thank you so much for doing this. You host the show on snapchat and you have puck news. I also give a shout out to this book. A booker was like an e book that twitter. Yeah that was a. I did a fellowship at the short scene center. Harvard is basically a a study. Should have been a book because it's so long about how twitter sort of ruined or disrupted political journalism. But it's called did twitter. Kill the boys on the bus and it is is actually really great and still worth visiting so. Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you guys nicole hammer. Thanks he was always thinks. Charity and kelly carta jackson. Thanks to you my pleasure. This day in esoteric political history is a proud member of radio topiary from p. r. x. A network of independent listener supported artists owned. Podcasts are researcher and producer. Is jacob feldman. Our producer is brittany brown. You can get in touch with us with any questions or comments or ideas for the show. Mls us this day pod at g mail dot com or you can find a form at this day. Pod dot com. My name is jody avirgan. Thanks again for listening. And we'll see you soon fest villa here over here with the yellow shirt macaca or whatever his name is he's mma five hundred these following us around everywhere and it's just great. We're going to places all longer. Virginia radio x.