August is often, as they say in the media business, a slow month. But The Washington Post is filling the void this year by ginning up some news.
While campaigning recently in southern Virginia, Sen. George Allen singled out a man in the crowd, announcing, “This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent.”
The man’s S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer for Allen’s Democratic opponent James Webb. “Let’s give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” Allen concluded. The comments seemed mean spirited, although even the Post wasn’t exactly sure when they meant.
“Depending on how it is spelled, the word macaca could mean either a monkey that inhabits the Eastern Hemisphere or a town in South Africa,” the paper explained on Aug. 15.
Allen said he didn’t know what the word meant. “I would never want to demean him as an individual. I do apologize if he’s offended by that. That was no way the point,” he told the paper. And that’s where the flap ought to have ended, with the one front-page story titled “Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology.”
The next day the story was again on the front page, under a headline that explained the senator was now on “damage control after remarks.” Allen again apologized, saying he’d simply “made up a nickname for the cameraman, which was in no way intended to be racially derogatory.”
Since we’d now had as many senatorial apologies as we’d had front-page stories, it seemed the Post should move on. And indeed, the macaca mess did subside for a few days, before returning with a vengeance on Aug. 19. “Allen Flap May Give A Boost To Webb,” announced the front page.
That’s an interesting turn. “May” boost Webb? Why the speculation?
After all, the Post is a big believer in polls. This is the paper that, when President Bush’s approval ratings were falling some months ago, carried almost daily updates. It was constantly quoting the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup/CBS News/New York Times/Washington Post/Field/Newsweek poll (so much for media competition) showing the president at a “new low.”
But now, almost a week after Sen. Allen’s controversial comments, the paper had yet to run any poll information on whether the race was really getting tighter. Instead, it turned to front-page speculation about whether those comments would hurt Allen with voters. And predictable speculation at that.
The Post quoted Martin Tillett, a “self-described Democrat” who “had already opposed Allen for his conservative positions.” Tillett added, “This week has just added fuel on the fire as far as I am concerned.” Oh, there’s news.