Flashback: Gulf Oil Spill and Rise of ‘the Narrative’ in Politics

The Importance of  Tracking Evolving Narratives

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Gulf Oil Spill Vs. Katrina

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Obama vs. BP

The Lesson of the Gulf Oil Spill narrative is the importance of controlling the narrative, since whoever wins of the narrative, controls the story in terms of political capital — for good or ill.

Austin, TX, June 02, 2010 (Updated May 24, 2014) — In an exclusive analysis by The Global Language Monitor’s NarrativeTracker™, there are now several differing story lines emerging from the Gulf Oil Spill. The ‘narrative’ refers to the stream of public opinion captured by blogs and other social media outlets on the Internet, as well as the leading print and electronic databases.

Colleen Ross:  How Obama Lost Control of the Oil-Spill Narrative (CBC)

The Narratives emerging from this on-going (and slow-moving) disaster include: Obama was Slow to Respond – 95% of the social media conversations characterize the President Obama as ‘slow to respond’. Obama vs. BP: who’s in charge? — 52% see BP in charge of the spill. This may or may not be a political liability. Democrats need the blame assigned to BP; at the same time, Obama needs to be seen as in overall control of the disaster Worst environmental disaster ever – 42% see the current spill the worst environmental disaster ever. Federal Response — 57% see the Federal response using ‘poor’ or related keywords. Not a good month for the Feds; come to think of it, not a good year for the Feds. Katrina vs. Exxon Valdez – 61% make the comparison to the Exxon Valdez; about 39% compare the ongoing spill to the inundation of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

 

Biblical Prophecies Abound Once More — About 61% of all references involve the Bible. (Even Ted Turner has a theory how the oil spill might be a warning from God.) These are markedly different in tone than those used with Katrina where the references focused on apocalyptic imagery, End-of-the-World scenarios and doom. The Obama Style of Leadership – This is a close one 52% see Obama as ‘hand’s on’ leadership, 48% see ‘hand’s off’. Again, this is either positive or negative depending on your political bias.

Clarence Page:  How stories, true or not, drive politics

Ronald Reagan was seen as a ‘hand’s off’ president and that was considered good. Jimmy Carter was a ‘hand’s on’ type president and that was considered bad. “The development of the Gulf Oil Spill narrative is important to track since he who wins control of the narrative, controls the story in terms of political capital – for good or ill,” said Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of GLM. “With the mid-term elections just five months away, and the prospect of the Gulf Oil Spill continuing unabated for months, control of the narrative is more important than ever.” The rise of the narrative can render positions on the issues almost meaningless, since positions now matter less than how they fit into a particular narrative.

The NarrativeTracker is more effective in capturing the true opinion of the public because it tracks unfiltered keywords in Social Media and other sources, rather than how that opinion is interpreted by the news media or by pollsters. The term ‘narrative’ in this sense is now appearing thousands of times in the global media on the Internet and blogosphere as well as throughout the world of social media, meaning the main streams of public opinion running in the media that needs to be fed, encouraged, diverted or influenced by any means possible. GLM recently announced The Healthcare NarrativeTracker Index™ (NTI™), in partnership with OpenConnect Systems of Dallas. The Healthcare NTI is the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving healthcare reform, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. The NarrativeTracker is based on the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator™ (PQI™).

The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere and other social media outlets as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity. About the Global Language Monitor Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English.



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ObamaCare Website Roll-out Broke the Seven Laws of High Tech Branding

 

 

 

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“… it’s all about the brand.”

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AUSTIN, Texas. October 25, 2013 — According to a report released by the Global Language Monitor, there are seven laws of high technology branding that organizations violate at great risk to their brand equity, their product, their reputation — and their future or even survival.  Now, even its staunchest defenders admit that the ObamaCare Website Roll-out was a flawed, less than stellar effort, communicating incompetence, or worse.  However, from a marketing perspective, the firestorm over the ObamaCare Website Roll-out was a direct result of the Administration’s violation of the Seven Laws of High Technology Branding.

The Seven Laws of High Tech Branding are key to ultimate success or failure because these rules are not arbitrary whims, folklore, or random suggestions, but rather the experience of hundreds or even thousands of high technology companies, most of which you have never heard of, or remember only, as fleeting brands that dazzled, shooting across the firmament, only to be consumed by their own incandescence, rapidly fading into oblivion (e,g. Univac, Sperry, Burroughs, Commodore, Wang, Prime, Data General, and the like).

We often write of the importance of brands and brand equity and their importance to contemporary society in these pages.  Indeed, we live in a world where the value of our choices, options, and opportunities are constantly being weighed against one another. This constant, continuing and continual evaluation is the basis of what we call ‘brand equity’. We define ‘brand equity’ as the value that is placed on any branded-entity as compared to all the others. Branded entities can be any person, place, idea or thing.

In the world of High Technology, where ObamaCare now, perhaps unfairly,  finds itself, it’s all about the brand.

Read more

Obama and the null set narrative

Reprinted from The Hill, May 31, 2009

Obama and the null set narrative

By Paul JJ Payack

We have been analyzing the narrative of Barack Obama for some years now. In fact, we’ve tracked three differing narratives in the course of his campaign and the first term of his presidency. We’ve tracked the president’s highs (the “Yes we can!” Grant Park Speech, and others of soaring rhetoric), and his lows (the much more pedestrian Gulf Oil Spill effort).

We’ve been praised for our astute analysis, and condemned for announcing his premature political death. At the time, the Global Language Monitor’s analysis of the BP Oil Spill speech was actually pulled off CNN and replaced by a far milder critique. In retrospect, that speech was a harbinger of what was to come — Barack Obama bereft of Hope and Change.

Not that we didn’t have hints about of what was about to transpire. Consider the disposition of these “hope-and-change type” promises: (1) the immediate shutdown of Guantanamo, (2) the end of the K Street revolving door and (3) holding the bankers accountable for their part in the financial meltdown. How exactly do you make sense of these countervailing (or even contradictory) positions?

Obama and the null set narrative.

Now consider the president’s recent speech on U.S. defense policy: after ramping up the use of drones against “enemy combatants,” with hundreds of civilians deaths by the administration’s own estimate, he stands firmly against gratuitous drone strikes. After keeping Gitmo open for going on five years now, he will now do everything in his power to close it. How to make sense of these seemingly oppositional positions?

The null set narrative.

In the run-up to the 2010 midterms, we began to formally track the president’s narrative. We were curious to better understand how the word ‘narrative’ rose to be the No. 1 political buzzword at that time and what it meant to this presidency. Other terms frequently used to describe Obama at the time, included: detached, aloof, hands-off or professorial. Some took these words to be demeaning and/or insulting.

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The danger comes when politicians and their operatives essentially use ‘narrative’ … the version of the truth that they want us to believe even when they don’t believe it.”

Since his reelection last November, we have remained silent on the subject — awaiting the second term narrative to emerge. With the recent series of crises, scandals and/or events, we now are, indeed, witnessing this new narrative: the null set narrative.

Consider, if you will, the current plight of one Jay Carney.

It is always interesting how one’s attributes can be used to praise or condemn depending on the narrative in which they are described.

However, this is a narrative that can fit around any news, story or scandal; more to the point, it is completely irrelevant to the words ensconced within it. Any words, anytime, anywhere. This is the narrative of choice for the administration at this point in time.

And now detached, aloof, and hands-off are the favored phrases in this administration’s null set narrative.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/the-administration/302749-obama-and-the-null-set-narrative#ixzz2UuzupYr7

 

Obama in Boston: “State of Grace” among his best orations

“Heal Our City” Service

Austin, Texas, April 18, 2013 — An emotional Barack Obama was at his best, once again, as the ‘Mourner-in-Chief’ at the Healing the City memorial service for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing on Thursday.

The President spoke in short crisp paragraphs, using expertly composed declarative sentences, shifting frequently  into imperative mood.

Two standard ‘easy-to-understand” English measurements both ranked among the highest ever scored by the President, similar to the Tuscon memorial service, and his Grant Park, ‘Yes, We Can’ victory speech.

The President’s words were dignified, stately, with many faith-related expressions, praising Boston as a world cultural center belonging to us all.

He singled out the three victims of the attack by name (Martin Richard, the eight-year old, with the  now-iconic smile, Krystle Campbell, who would have turn 30 this week, Lu Lingzi, the Chinese graduate student) as representative of the indomitable spirit typical of the commonwealth, city and the Boston Marathon.

The President concluded his oration quoting St Paul in the second book of  Timothy:  “God has not given us the spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Obama ended with a solemn flourish praising the strength, resilience of the people, with the call to ‘finish the race’.

Paul JJ Payack

 

 

Obama: du candidat super star au président mal aimé


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La couverture de l’élection de Barack Obama a été sans commune mesure avec les élections présidentielles de 2000 et 2004. Jacques Portes explique pourquoi le président des Etats-Unis n’a pas réussi à transformer ce succès planétaire en atout au cours de son mandat. Extraits de “Obama, vers un deuxième mandat ?” (1/2).




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Third Debate: a Reverse ‘Rope-a-Hope’

Exclusive Analysis

Austin, Texas.  October 23 — The President chose to go on the attack in the Third Presidential Debate last night; in a sort of reverse ‘rope-a-Hope’ strategy the challenger attempted to defuse the pummeling by not quite praising the President’s efforts but, rather, agreeing with him whenever it was even remotely possible.   This was the Obama of 2008, though the pounding spoke less of hope and change & more of a desperate attempt to please his base.

For all the chest-pounding on the President’s side of the aisle, er, Spin Room, the fact remained that Obama was back in familiar territory of long  sentences, a relatively high usage of  the passive voice, with a lower reading ease, and attendant higher grade level scores.  Once again, the higher use of the passive voice often is interpreted as attempting to evade ownership or shift responsibility.  Obama’s use of passive was more than double his use in the Second Debate.    Typically, a bellicose style does not win over the undecided, who seek to be more reassured than shouted at.

Romney’s numbers were remarkably similar during all three debates, which apparently reflects his steady, controlled, ‘gee willikers’-type personality, with a direct, if quaint, speaking style.  This is a style of moderate-length, declarative sentences, with little use of the passive voice,  and short, direct, and easy to understand words.

Both candidates were attempting to sound (and look) presidential and it was apparent that the second task was quite wearying.  Holding back on Biden-esque smirks and Al Gore-ish disdain, feigning interest while keeping their talking points in mind, looked to take a singular toll.

Now the question remains if the Third Debate, along with a narrow win in the Second, is enough to unwind the havoc wrought by Debate No. 1, which introduced Mitt 2.0 (or even 3.0) upon an unsuspecting American electorate.  Indeed, who knew that Mr.  Romney could even affect let alone reverse his apparent off-course trajectory in a 90-minute span?  Seldom has the course of a major American campaign change in a shorter amount of time.  And seldom has a foregone conclusion, Obama winning an electoral  landslide, collapsed as  suddenly.



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Not the Thrilla in Manila, but Certainly Nasty in Nassau

Austin, TEXAS.  October 17, 2012.  The President Obama of yore (2008, that is) showed up at the debate  last night and so was hailed the victor.  In fact, the numbers show that it was not that Romney faltered.  He did not.  Rather it was the President who recovered from his first debate ‘debacle’ (as viewed by his strongest supporters).

The numbers reveal the story.  First, keep this number in mind:  7.4.  This is the grade level of Obama’s most widely hailed speech, the “Yes, We Can!” Grant Park victory speech.  ‘Yes, We Can!” is widely perceived as a classic to be enshrined in the American Oratory Hall of Fame along side Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream,” Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,’ and Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill” speeches.

In the first Presidential debate, Obama’s grade level came in at 9.2.  For a debate, with all its give-and-take, interruptions, pauses and the like, that was a rather high number. A Town Hall meeting is definitely not the place for the  grandiloquent turn of phrase, especially when you are trying to woo the undecided citizens of the land with plain speakin’ — no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

We all told in sixth grade that a newspaper should be written at the sixth-grade level, which from the sixth-grade perspective  can be quite a challenge.  What this really translates to is short sentences, concise paragraphs, fewer polysyllabic words, and all written in active voice.

As an example, Joe Biden spoke at a sixth grade level (6.1) in the vice presidential debate and there were few who claimed the inability to understand Ol’ Joe.   (Unfortunately, these tests do not evaluate facial expressions.)  In last night’s debate , Obama scored 7.2 in the grade-level score, about 28% lower (and in this case better) than his first debate — and nearly identical to his Grant Park discourse.

Both Romney and Obama cut their used of passive voice nearly in half  from 6% to 4% and 3%, respectively.  Active voice, where the subject is the doer of the action, is always preferred over passive voice in political discourse since it can be used to avoid responsibility.  (‘Taxes were raised’ rather than ‘I raise raised the taxes.)

Finally, Obama’s reading ease score improved over 8% from 63.1 to 70.1; Romney’s remained a bit higher at 71.0.

In champion fights, the unwritten rule is that you never take the current champ’s crown away on — points unless the victory is overwhelming.  Last night the President showed up to fight, and thus is awarded the victory on points.  So the Presidential Debate series now stands even at 0ne all, with the rubber (and deciding) match to take place next week.



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With Obama’s structural lead, debate stakes couldn’t be higher

October 16, Austin, Texas — (Opinion) We have seen this all before in politics, in the board room, on the ball fields, and in life. The person at the top of the pecking order makes a misstep, seemingly minor, and then cascades into something major, and then cascades further still until it become calamitous — unless it can be stopped in time. Time is of the essence here. It must be squelched immediately, or sooner. And hopefully sooner still.

Perhaps it is ironic that one of the best examples was that of Mitt Romney’s Dad, George, in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination back in the late ’60s. George Romney claimed that he had been ‘brainwashed’ by the U.S. military and diplomatic personnel on a visit to Vietnnam. “Romney brainwashed’ screamed the headlines. And that was all it took for his campaign to unravel.

Even a youthful observer could understand that Romney was using what in literature is known as synecdoche, where a part is used to represent something far larger. I have since seen this repeated scores of times in political confrontations of all types most recently in the Arab Spring. Today, we label this kind of support ‘shallow’ where a significant number of supporters are ready to abandon their candidate at the first instance that a viable alternative arises.

Could this explain what we saw in the aftermath of the first debate? It seems unlikely, but nevertheless could explain the remarkable transformation of the presidential contest we are now witnessing. I should note that it also doesn’t mean the the president will lose on November 6th. His lead is structural, both in terms of constituents as well as geography. There are many paths available for Obama to construct a electoral majority. For Romney the options are far fewer. Even if Romney’s momentum continues to build, there is a possibility of Romney eking out a slim victory in the popular vote, while losing by a far larger margin in the Electoral College.

The stakes in Tuesday’s debate could not be higher. For Romney the task is to build upon his momentum, for Obama it is to halt Romney in his tracks before he loses complete control of the race.

Paul JJ Payack, president, Global Language Monitor

A slightly different version of this article appeared on TheHill.com on October 15, 2012.



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Malarkey Vs. Adorkable: The Vice Presidential Debate

Two words can be used to distill the essence of  Thursday Night’s Vice Presidential Debate:  Malarkey Vs. Adorkable.

On the one hand you have Joe Biden in familiar territory talking, interrupting, spinning, smiling feverishly to help the Democrats regain control of the political narrative after the widely perceived misteps of the president in the first Presidential Debate; on the other you have Paul Ryan, the wunder wonk, attempting to demonstrate 1) that he is NOT Sarah Palin, and 2) that he is more than simply a policy wonk and has the attendant seriousness, intelligence and skill set necessary to sit a heartbeat away from the presidency.  Both succeeded in their appointed tasks.

Though Biden used the term ‘malarkey’ to describe Ryan’s debate performance, it was Biden who more closely typified the concept of  ‘malarkey’ (bluster).  Ryan did not stray too far from his policy wonk persona, but was fortunate that dorks, nerds and wonks are now in fashion.  Hence the term ‘adorkable’ for ‘adorable dork’.  In fact, The Global Language Monitor had named ‘adorkable’ as the Top Television Word of the Year just a month or so ago.

In terms of language usage, Biden used about 30% more passive voice than Ryan.  Many believe that the passive voice is used to shade the truth, opposed to simple declarative sentences.  Ryan and Biden both were relatively easy to understand according to the standardized algorithms coming in at 69.4 and 72.6 on the Reading Ease Scale.  As for Grade Level, Ryan came in at 6.6, while Biden scored a 6.1.  For comparison, Obama scored a 9.2 and Romney a 6.8 in their first debate.

(As a side note, Biden’s score (6.1)  was the lowest ever recorded in a debate, surpassing  Ross Perot’s previous low of 6.3).



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The Final Narrative of Barack Obama

Austin, Texas.  October 9, 2012 —  The controversy swirling around Obama’s debate performance  completely misses the point.  For better or worse, this is it. Stripped of all pretension. Devoid of the catch phrases and the swoons. Minus the Hollywood glam. This is he. Barack Obama. The man, unadorned.  No longer do we see Obama through a glass dimly. Now we see him for who he is. This is neither to embellish nor dis-embellish the man. This is to see things for what they are and not what they ought — or ought not — to be.

At the Global Language Monitor we understand that life is not an exit poll; we cannot shape the reality of how we just voted. It is a zero-sum thing, a binary action, a one or a zero, a yes or a no. In the same manner we have tracked the narrative of Barack Obama the preceding five years, stripped of all adornment, searching for the reality that was all too frequently, standing right before us, actually in our midst, if only we had the will to open our eyes to see.

Of course we have unabashedly published our findings along the way but at that time our findings seemed a bit out-of-step, as indeed they were. Out-of-step with the perceived reality, but in step with reality as it was. Unlike most of life, a new president is graced with a honeymoon period, when missteps are overlooked, forgotten, or forgiven.  This is not the ‘suspension of disbelief’  that allows us to enjoy a fantastical story in the cinema but rather a ‘suspension of self-interest,’ where we put aside our partisan differences and wait.  We wait for the cues and signals, both small and large, that will reveal the intentions, proclivities, and (dare I say it?) the character of the incumbent.

For some presidents this grace period is over nearly before it starts (Gerald Ford and George W. Bush come to mind).  For others, it lasts a bit longer (George H.W. Bush), and for others longer still (Ronald Reagan).    In the case of Barack Obama, the situation was markedly different.  Being a black man, most Americans wanted him to succeed precisely because he was a black man.  As a relative outsider, he was a welcome break from the recent past (and impending future) — Bush 41, Clinton 42, Bush 43, Clinton 44?

Being a newcomer, he was the classic tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which we could pour upon all our hopes and dreams.  And change?  Who on this planet did not want  change from the preceding eight years:  a divisive and disputed election, global terrorism and 9/11, two wars in the Middle East, a devastating tsunami, the inundation of one of America’s great cities, and to top it off, the global financial meltdown. All this being so, Barack Obama began his presidency with an extraordinarily large reservoir of good will.  Let’s call this reservoir the Hope and Change Quotient (HCQ).

During Obama’s first days in office, the nation was engulfed in ‘anger and rage’? GLM analyzed the situation back in February 2009 and found that what was being reported as ‘anger’ was actually ‘frustration,’ while what was being reported as ‘rage’ was actually ‘despair’, a sense of foreboding or impending doom. GLM followed this rather odd undercurrent during the earliest, most hopeful, days of the Obama administration. The results were striking, especially, in contrast to the immense outpouring of global goodwill in response to the inauguration of Barack Obama, since the survey included the ten days immediately following Obama’s swearing in.  Some of the keywords showing heightened awareness were Abandoned, Despair, Desperation, and Fear — all appearing in the media with double digit increases over the pre-election period.   This was perhaps an abberation we thought, but as we moved forward, the pattern continued unabated.

We saw a turning point with the Gulf Oil Spill speech.  This was the opportunity to show the world how a US President would properly respond to a major crisis threatening the Gulf Coast, the ecosystem, and the forces of nature and the evil of Man (an arrogant CEO from Central casting, BP, Halliburton, and a 24×7 ‘Spill Cam’ spewing forth colorful filth, worthy of  a Dreamworks 3-D treatment.   And what did we get?  We got what we had been measuring for the preceding two years:  Obama 2.0, with an academic-sounding speech detailing a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics, and little of the hell-and-brimstone his followers had hope for.  

By now it was becoming apparent for all to see.   This was a changed and changing man, at least how he revealed himself publicly through speech.  By time the 2010 Mid-Terms delivered their ‘shellacking’ the transformation was nearly complete.   With a few noteworthy exceptions, such as his Tuscon eulogy,which ranked among his best, the President has appeared less-and-less engaged, more-and-more distant.

In July we noted that the top political buzzwords were telling a far different story than either campaign was presenting to the American people.  Our analysis found that Bush was clearly assigned responsibility for the so-called Great Recession, while Obama was responsibility for the economy’s current condition, just as concern over Bain Capital and the ‘war against women’ were of less and little concern respectively.  In other words, the American people saw the issues as if the virulent political ads of both parties did not exist.  In contrast ‘Still believe the American Dream’  was No. 5 and ‘Disappointment in Obama Administration’ was No. 6.

At the same time, the Hope and Change Quotient has nearly been depleted, this being the normal course near the end of every president’s first term in recent memory.   The President has finally been vetted.  We now know the man, his strengths, weaknesses, and his proclivities.  This is not to say that he will not win in his bid for re-election.  But this is to say, that for better or worse, this is it.

This is the final narrative of Barack Obama.

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GLM used NarrativeTracker Technology in this study. NarrativeTracker is based on the global discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what any audience is saying about any topic, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, the top global print and electronic media, as well as new media sources as they emerge.

Paul JJ Payack is the president and Chief Word Analysts of Austin-based Global Language Monitor.



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