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SocietyJanuary 6, 2024

Did people spontaneously applaud the Donald Trump indictment in a Rotorua cafe?


Summer reissue: The executive producer of Modern Family has issued an incendiary claim about New Zealanders cheering and clapping in public. Hayden Donnell gets to the bottom of things.

First published on April 1, 2023.

The sitcom Modern Family is remembered as a “warm-hearted story about the unbreakable bonds of family”; a tale of radically different people overcoming their differences out of love.

Unfortunately all the unity and hope Modern Family created in 10 seasons of progressive storytelling couldn’t hold a candle to the mockery, division and identity-based anger its executive producer Danny Zuker generated with one 35-word tweet issued last Friday afternoon.

Zuker’s claim that New Zealanders had not only expressed emotion, but done so in public, was met with a tsunami of derision and disbelief.

“I’ll take “Things that didn’t happen” for $200 thanks,” wrote one person on Twitter.

“Not to be a killjoy but there is absolutely zero chance this happened in New Zealand,” wrote another.

Others presented equally implausible scenarios. “This happened in New Plymouth too”, said one. 

The collective thesis was that New Zealanders are a stoic and emotionless people, and anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar who can get fucked. 

The reaction echoed the one endured by musician Amanda Palmer in January 2021, when she tweeted a seemingly implausible allegation about an experience she had while going for coffee after Joe Biden’s inauguration.

In that case, I was able to shed some light on what really happened, and smother the flames of rage under a riverstone of cold, hard fact. As the anger over Zuker’s tweet amplified, people started asking me to go back to what has somehow become my actual journalistic round, and investigate a famous American’s dubious claim that we were cheering in cafes over US politics.

The first thing to do was to make sure Zuker wasn’t just doing a callback gag. I asked him an earnest question about where he apparently heard the celebrations. Happily, he responded. 

The name was a typo, but it was clear he had a real place in mind: Tutanekai St. Why would you present someone with a real street location for your made up gag? I didn’t believe the man behind a big-hearted, Emmy-winning primetime sitcom like Modern Family could be that cruel.

No, Zuker’s claim seemed genuine, and it contained some facts to go on. His tweet gave a small window of time for the alleged public exuberance. It was posted at 3.12pm and said he’d “just heard” the revelry. It also gave a rough location: an area with cafes and surrounding shops. 

There are six cafes on Tutanekai St, but because it was already nearing 4pm, most of them were closed. I set about calling nearby retailers, from the local Macpac outlet to Trade Aid and the Coco Banana beauty store. None of them had heard clapping and cheering around 3pm.

When I investigated Palmer’s claim, I was able to use my legendary EQ [citation needed] to deduce her go-to hipster cafe in Havelock North. I only made one phone call. This time, that was not the case. 

At 4.51pm, I let my wife know I might be working late

The task was enormous. Within minutes, I felt like giving up. But then I spotted a tweet from Alex Braae, a former Spinoff lackey turned producer of TVNZ’s flagship current affairs show Q+A.

His theory was inspired. As it happened, I had the Black Caps game on in the background while I worked. I rewound my Spark Sport app to the time Zuker posted his tweet, in an effort to find out whether it coincided with an event that might have prompted spontaneous clapping and cheering. It had. At around 3.08pm, Sri Lankan number five Charith Asalanka skied a catch to Henry Shipley off the bowling of Darryl Mitchell to give New Zealand their fourth wicket.

The cricket theory seemed plausible, perhaps even likely. But to give it real credibility, I needed to know Zuker was walking near a place that was screening the cricket around the time he posted his original tweet. Thankfully, soon after, he provided more specific details on his location.

It would have been good to know this before I made 30 phone calls

Eat St is a pedestrianised area at the northern tip of Tutanekai St filled with bars and restaurants. Zuker’s tweet narrowed my search considerably, but it didn’t make the task easy. The phone calls continued. Ruth from Lady Jane Ice Cream said she was elbow deep in cookies and cream around that time, and didn’t hear any clapping. Neither had anyone at Mac’s Steak House, India Star, CBK Craft Beer and Kitchen, or the Good George Beer Garden. Leonardo’s hadn’t heard anything either, but they provided a breakthrough; a place on Eat St that was screening the cricket: Ambrosia. 

The manager at Ambrosia was in the middle of dinner service when I called. Thankfully, she was kind enough to help. She said the cricket had been on-screen there all day. Not only that – a crowd had been watching, including at around 3.08pm when Sri Lanka lost their fourth wicket.

The news of Donald Trump’s indictment was first broadcast at 10.50am. In Zuker’s scenario, it took more than four hours to filter out to a group of New Zealanders in Rotorua, who were so enthused by the revelation that the star of Home Alone 2: Lost In New York might go to jail that they abandoned decades of cultural conditioning and lapsed into spontaneous public merriment.

A much more likely scenario is this: Zuker was walking past Ambrosia on Eat St at around 3.08pm on Friday, March 31. At the same time, Charith Asalanka was chipping a lazy shot straight to the fielder at deep midwicket, presenting a group of New Zealand spectators with one of the few scenarios where it’s socially acceptable for them to abandon their emotional reserve besides a Six60 concert or getting the news Le Snaks are being discontinued. Zuker assumed the revellers were just as happy as he was about the demise of the man who once tweeted this:


But he was, in all likelihood, incorrect. 

After considering all the facts at hand, this is The Spinoff’s official fact check of all the components of Zuker’s tweet.

Claim #1: True story

This is mostly false. The story that follows is only true in parts.

Claim #2: I was just walking down a street in Rotorua New Zealand

This is true. There is solid evidence Zuker walked down a street in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Claim #3: when the Trump indictment was announced and local people in cafes and shops spontaneously cheered

This is Zuker’s central claim and, in all likelihood, false. It’s more likely that cheers erupted from a local bar and restaurant that was screening the Black Caps’ match against Sri Lanka.

Claim #4: It was kind of beautiful. #USA #NewZealand 

This is true.

Keep going!