Deconstructing the macaca moment: "it didn't just happen."

On his blog, the eminently wise Bruce Sterling points to an essay analyzing exactly how that "macaca" video led to senatorial candidate George Allen's death-by-YouTube. Bruce says,

This isn't a 'centipede,' but it's an interesting primer on how to create, leverage and exploit one. It seems to be mostly about timing. You need to toss matches when the grass is dry and the wind is in your corner. As far as media exploitation goes, there's zero practical difference between a 'macaca moment' and a 'bimbo eruption.' What would be really useful at this point would be a primer on 'good damage control.' How do you kill a centipede?

Snip from the politicsonline item, via Bruce's blog:

At today's New Organizing Institute/Center for American Progress event, Jim Webb campaign manager Jessica Vanden Berg told a much more nuanced story about how the campaign took their opponent's mistake and ran with it as far as they could. Macaca didn't just happen; the Webb people MADE it happen.

S. R. Sidarth took the original footage of Allen taunting him in front of a crowd on August 11, a Friday. By that evening the senior campaign staff had heard the audio over the phone and realized that they had something that could be significant. After they actually saw the video, they knew they had a real gem – not only had Allen made comments with a racial edge, but he'd also bullied the Webb staffer in public.

But how to spread the word? According to Vanden Berg, they chose to post the video on YouTube because it was free (simple enough). But before they tossed it out for the public to see, they'd already pitched the story to a Washington Post reporter, who wrote about it online on Monday. Only after the Post story appeared and the issue had been properly framed did the Webb folks send an email to their supporter list and to friendly bloggers.

The fact that the video was on YouTube made it particularly easy to distribute, since bloggers could insert it directly into their pages, but it was the campaign's promotional work that spread the word. And as the story developed, they constantly worked reporters and bloggers behind the scenes to shape the public discussion.