How ‘Ululation’ Entered California Political Lexicon


newsreporter02Last word on Dems: The dopey little story that Loretta Sanchez told to an audience of Indian-American Democrats, and that generated several zillion words of reportage while offending every person west of the Mississippi, was just so weird that it brutally challenged the descriptive talents of every political writer on scene.

It was hard enough recounting what happened, and why Sanchez was in trouble for it.

To limn the specific behavior which ignited the kerfuffle: a journalistic test of epic proportion.

The SacBee’s Chris Cadelago and David Siders, the Splash Brothers of California political reporting, broke the story online late Saturday, reporting that Sanchez “mimicked a racial stereotype of American Indians” by “holding her hand in front of her mouth and making an echo sound,” a long and winding description that took 20 words.

By the next day, they’d whittled it down to 13 words, saying that in a cloudy iPhone video, she “holds her hand in front of her mouth and makes a whooping sound.”

Not long after, the AP’s Michael Blood, with a veteran wire reporter’s economy of language, called what she’d done a “whooping cry in reference to Native Americans,” a mere eight words; around the same time, LA Timesman Michael Finnegan, in one of the 6,000 yarns he filed over the weekend, more expansively referred to Sanchez “tapping her hand to her mouth in an imitation of a war cry” in one, while calling it “a stereotypical Native American ‘war cry’ gesture” in another.

The Chron’s Melody Gutierrez, settling on a comprehensive contextual explanation, wrote that the Senate wannabe “attempted to explain the difference between American Indians and people whose ancestors were from India by putting her hand over her mouth and mimicking a war cry.”

Sanchez herself, oddly enough (surprise, surprise), threw accuracy to the wind in the apology embedded within her convention speech by saying she was sorry because she “said something offensive.” Say what?

la-me-indian-americans-sidebar-20150518The beat goes on: On Monday morning. Calbuzz went our own way; focused on our vast audience of elementary school baseball fans, we chose a pure phonetic construction, spelling out “woowoowoo!” while citing the “inexplicable Chief Wahoo moment” of Sanchez.

Finally, Peter Jamison, an LAT metro desk hand summoned from the bullpen to pitch in on the widening war whoop scandal, hit upon what seemed the top show-don’t-tell phraseology.


He alluded to the Great Woman’s “ululating Native American ‘war cry,’” a phrase Finnegan reused several hours later, and which, by now, surely is on a save-and-recall string at the paper.

Still no word why no one tried out “Democratic ululation convocation.”

P.S. Jamison’s ululation story is worth a read for another reason: he not only discloses that Uduak-Joe Utuk, the Long Beach delegate and Indian American Caucus member who shot the offending video with his phone and first posted it on You Tube, previously raised money for Sanchez rival and front-runner Kamala Harris, but also that he lied about it when first contacted by the paper Saturday night. Curiouser and curiouser.

Words, words, words: Speaking of cunning linguists, Lite Gov Gavin Newsom gets major props from this corner for his short but punchy speech, notable for the classiness of his references and the richness of his vocabulary. Prince Gavin became the first American politician who, in a single address, not only quoted Plutarch and Michelangelo, but also brandished the phrases “our destiny is not immutable,” “an unsustainable contradiction” and “we didn’t listen to the dystopians.”

No such florid turns of phrase for party chair John Burton, who introduced Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday with his signature locution: “She is the fucking champion of the American people.”

And then there was Treasurer John Chiang, who bizarrely adopted the loud, tub-thumping tone of Huey Long while delivering the following line: “Puerto Rico debt cost 8.7%…when I sold our debt last week I sold it at 3.27%.”

burtoncropBy far the best quote of the weekend came from the unidentified man of the cloth (whose name we managed to miss because we were too busy gossiping with somebody) who gave Saturday’s invocation; on behalf of the eternal souls of the assembled, he prayed for collective strength “never to confuse our perception of truth with the truth itself.” Political consultants take heed.

Calbuzz gets results: Press Clips mega-kudos to the aforementioned Finnegan, who aggressively pressed Sanchez at her Sunday press conference to promise publicly that she will not abandon her Senate bid at some point in favor of seeking re-election to her congressional seat; this scenario, endorsed by at least half of your Calbuzzards, was published first in this space, although we again were too busy gossiping with somebody to help out as the crafty Timesman doggedly asked the question about 12 different ways:

With her U.S. Senate campaign off to a bumpy start, Loretta Sanchez refused Sunday to rule out the possibility of running instead for reelection to the House of Representatives…

stubborn-kidAsked then whether there was any chance she’d opt to seek reelection to the House next year if her Senate campaign appeared to be in trouble, the Santa Ana lawmaker responded, “Let me be very clear: I am running for the United States Senate. Thank you.”

Asked to specify whether she was ruling out a run for reelection, Sanchez said: “I am running for the United States Senate, and we’re running full bore to talk to people up and down California, and we think that by the time we finish, and [the June 2016 primary] rolls around, we’re going to be moving into the general election.”

Ululate that, Kamala.


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