It’s hard to imagine now, given all the disgusting filth and bigotry that has issued from the mouth of Donald Trump and his surrogates in the last year, that one single slur brought down a U.S. Senate candidate who was being groomed for the presidency just 10 years ago.
In August 2006, George Allen was running for the U.S. Senate from Virginia and was considered a virtual shoe-in. But in a rural area of southwest Virginia, he felt he had the liberty to sling a racial slur at someone videotaping the event he perceived to be a spy for his Democratic opponent. He called the Indian-American a “macaca.”
Naturally it was caught on tape, and when it was released to the media and aired statewide, it triggered a firestorm. A lazy summer day’s thoughtless slur led to the upset of this man in November and the Democrats briefly regained the majority in the U.S. Senate as a result. It has become legend as the “macaca moment.”
Something tells me there will be more to come in the final two months before this fall’s U.S. presidential election, but Donald Trump’s first major “macaca moment” came in the form of a huge (yuge) miscalculation by him and his campaign managers with the one-sentence “press conference” he held at his new hotel in Washington, D.C. last Friday. That one sentence, “President Obama was born in the United States, period,” bristled with aggressive hostility and was preceded by falsely blaming the entire “birther” controversy on his opponent and crediting himself with “ending it.”
Having kept the media corps waiting hours for that 30-second episode, he then turned away, blocked reporters from following him or asking questions, and permitted only camera crews to accompany his entourage on a tour of his new joint in hopes they would help him show it off on national TV.
CNN was broadcasting the whole thing live, with repeated teasers leading up to it about a “major announcement” that Trump was about to make.
When it abruptly ended as it did, CNN anchor Ashley Banfield at first was in disbelief. But then she got visibly angry and unleashed an unscripted criticism against Trump. Everywhere, it was subsequently learned, people who were watching on TV exploded in similar anger.
Instead of putting the “birther” issue behind him in pursuit of more African-American votes, Trump inflamed all the rage that had gradually subsided over his unrelenting, five year campaign to delegitimize the nation’s first African-American president by insisting he was not born in the U.S.
It was such an insult to President Obama, who’s become more and more popular with everyone, that it plainly revealed and reinforced the vile, self-serving core nature of Trump. So, it instantly became his “macaca moment.” It also helped to angrily set off the major media, forcing them to face how they’ve been played for suckers all along.
If they didn’t do something after this, they’d forever be shamed. So many news organizations reacted.
The next day, the Sept. 17 New York Times featured five headlines about Trump that included the words, “lie,” “false,” “falsely claimed” and “untrue,” as Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos pointed out. Kerry Eleveld of the DK declared the incident signaled “the beginning of a new day, not,” she added, “because Donnie has seen the light but because reporters seem to have caught on to the notion that they’ve been aiding and abetting a fraud all along.”
“Journalists got played, punked, duped – pick your word. But before this event, traditional reporters had typically been cruising along on auto-pilot, regurgitating everything this one-man freak show says.”
Peter Beinart in The Atlantic wrote that the New York Times’ reaction to the incident spelled “The Death of ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism” by calling a lie a lie instead of politely presenting it merely as one of two contesting points of view.
Generally, false “objectivity” had replaced truth in major media journalism, or at least up until last week. We’ll see how all this impacts the first big Trump-Clinton debate on Monday night.