Obama Narrative 2.0

Out-of-touch moves into No. 1 position over Deficit Spending; Oil Spill tops Health Care Reformer

Austin, Texas, July 24, 2010 – As the political calendar inexorably heads toward the Mid-term elections, the focus on President Obama’s competing ‘narratives’ continue to play out in the media.

Since his Oval Address on the Oil Spill, Obama’s personal narrative is being shaped by forces largely out of his control, such as the on-going Gulf drama.  These are how the five most prevalent competing narratives compare, according to Austin-based Global Language Monitor (GLM).  GLM has been monitoring the language of politics since 2003.

The ranking of the President’s five most prominent narrative arcs include:

  1. Obama as out-of-touch or aloof – This is up 1200% since the beginning of the year; this is the converse of Hope and Change.
  2. Obama and the deficit — Words linking Obama to deficit have increased some 2500% since the beginning of 2010.
  3. Obama and the Oil Spill — A very fast mover now ahead of Obama as Health Care reformer.  Could the completion of the relief well turn this around?
  4. Obama as HealthCare Reformer –   Losing steam quickly for the president’s signature achievement.
  5. Obama as the Chicago-style pol — A continued, steady rise in linking Obama to old-style Chicago politics.

“At this point, all five narratives in play are problematic for the president,” said Paul JJ Payack, GLM’s president and chief word analyst. “With the Mid-terms some hundred days away, the president needs a series of (possibly unexpected) positive events to stem this tide.”

Obama Narrative 2.0, the underlying storyline that will largely define the president in the run-up to the Mid-term elections and, possibly, for time remaining in his term.   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.

The NarrativeTracker Index  (NTI), the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving any particular topic. Because the NTI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. In addition to the NTI, the Narrative Tracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the opinions surrounding a single issue.

NTI tracks the ‘narrative’ of a subject, as well as projecting future trajectories for the narrative.    The result has several advantages over traditional polls:  1) Immediacy; 2) The lack of any bias that tends to creep into traditional polling, e.g., when individuals answer questions with what they think are the ‘correct’ answers rather than their true opinions; and 3) NTI lets policy and decision makers focus on the true issues driving perceptions and concerns rather than being driven by false and phantom concepts.  In addition, the Narrative Tracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative.

NTI 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 NTI 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.


Healthcare NarrativeTracker Detects Growing Concern about Containing Costs

Keeping Costs Low vs. Rising Costs

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DALLAS & AUSTIN, Texas, July 7, 2010The Healthcare NarrativeTracker™ has detected a growing wave of concern throughout the nation about containing rising Healthcare costs. The catalyst stems from the new regulations being now written to implement The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. At this point the affordability issue is coalescing around the President Obama’s oft-stated pledge that you can keep current Health Insurance plans if you so choose.  As M.I.T. health economist Jonathan Gruber recently stated, “It’s unclear that companies will want to have the same insurance plan in 2014 that they have in 2010.”

These facts have not gone unnoticed by the public and are considered by many to be a significant turnaround from earlier analyses, where people took at face value the President’s oft-stated words: “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period.” Obama declared in a speech to the American Medical Association last June, “No one will take it away, no matter what.” In fact, the New York Times recently reported that the government calculates that while 70 percent of small-business plans will remain grandfathered in 2011 that number will drop to 34 percent in 2013. Apparently, even the routine changes that occur every year as employers search for better products can be defined as changing the plan enough to obviate the provision that allows you to keep your current insurance, potentially leading to increasing costs for employer and employee alike.

Subsequent analysis of the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter) has shown that the public is aware of this shift. The results of the Healthcare NarrativeTracker Index™ (NTI™) were reported by OpenConnect, the leading company in event-driven intelligence solutions, and The Global Language Monitor, the media analytics company.

“Policies need to be evaluated by the effect they will have on the cost incurred with their implementation. The economics of healthcare reform need to be based on changes that help pay for themselves rather than make the problem worse. Only by realizing the type of efficiencies that have kept America in the forefront of world economic growth for the past century and a half will we be able to keep costs under current projections. All that is necessary is to summon the courage to make the tough choices ahead,” said Edward M.L. Peters, CEO of OpenConnect and author of The Paid-for Option, which details the methodology that has proven effective in the healthcare industry.

The Healthcare NarrativeTracker has detected rising concern about price increases perceived to be associated with the implementation of yet-to-be written regulations. The public is well-aware of the overall trillion dollar cost of the program, as well as associated costs, such as the so-called ‘Doc Fix’ not directly counted with the Healthcare Reform effort budget.

In the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping the price of insurance low were exceeded by conversations with those concerned about the rising costs of their healthcare by some 40%.

In the same manner, in the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 54%. For the first six months of this year, the conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 43% but with volume of the conversations increasing over 11,200%.

In summation, the media discussion resonating throughout the Internet, blogosphere and social media is driving the online discussion and conversations. This is particularly true when such narratives are being driven by articles such as those written by Dr. Marc Siegel who concludes, “the regulations impose a major vise on private insurance, restricting a company’s ability to increase cost sharing (such as coinsurance, deductibles and out-of pocket limits) as well as copayments (“more than the sum of medical inflation plus 15 percentage points or $5 increased by medical inflation”). So it is unlikely that many insurers will be able to remain viable without raising premiums (not restricted by the regulations) or slashing services.”

The NarrativeTracker Index is the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving healthcare reform. Because the Healthcare NTI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the opinions surrounding a single issue.

The NTI 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.

The Healthcare NTI is released monthly. The first analysis completed in May 2010 details the various narratives surrounding Massachusetts Healthcare reform, a healthcare model which has been adopted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as the national healthcare reform bill.


The Internet’s Fury Scorned

Obama Oval Office speech analysis provokes unprecedented response


Austin, Texas, July 2, 2010.  The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed a great many terrible, sad and historical events, with a few, unfortunately fleeting moments of great joy sprinkled between the dirges.  We have done our best to analyze the impact of these events on the global print and electronic media as well as on the Internet, throughout the blogosphere, and now the emerging social media.

After analyzing political speeches for a decade now, as well as all 55 Presidential Inaugural Addresses and transcripts of historical interest (including Washington’s Farewell Address, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, FDR’s ‘Live in Infamy’ radio address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech) you would think that we had seen and heard everything by now.

However, it wasn’t until our analysis of the President’s Gulf Spill Oval Office address, that we experienced the full force of the Internet’s fury scorned.

And this for an analysis that we considered basically non-newsworthy.

President Obama had given yet another address to the nation.  GLM used the same standardized, widely available, language tools that we used to name Obama’s Grant Park  “Yes, we can!” victory address as one that ranked with the greatest of presidential orations.  Now these same standardized, time-tested tools are being conveniently criticized as of questionable repute.

We were told that our analysis was either ‘bashing Obama’ or ‘excusing Obama’. At the same time, we were either ‘insulting the people’ or ‘insulting the President’. Finally, it was suggested that we were rather transparently calling for the President to ‘dumb down the rhetoric’ so that one and all might understand  the superior intelligence of ‘his highness’.  Whoa!

Apparently, many readers never got over the headline, missing the actual analysis and what the numbers told us about the speech. Our concern was that our initial headline, Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos might be considered demeaning to the President.  Wrong.  It was considered demeaning to everyone on the Left and the Right.

For general information on the readability tests used by GLM, click here.

For scientific literature about readability tests, enter Flesch or readability into the ERIC database.

We were surprised to learn that offense was, apparently,  taken in equal proportions by both the Right (Language Expert: If You Didn’t Like Obama’s Oil Spill Speech, It’s Probably Because You’re Stupid) and the Left (Obama Oil Spill Speech Criticized By CNN’s Language Analyst For Not Being Moronic Enough) of the political spectrum.   Nevertheless, we were quite amused by The ColbertReport’s send-up of our (and CNN’s) report, which somehow struck a middle chord.

It was also enlightening to see a significant proportion of this criticism to be ad hominem attacks, focusing on ourselves rather than our analysis.  (Read FAQ about GLM and Paul JJ Payack here.)

This past December, we encountered fierce criticism from the Chinese government dailies because  we named ‘The Rise of China” as the No. 1 news story of the decade.  (You can follow the narrative arc of this controversy here. )  But the criticism that accompanied the Obama Gulf Spill speech, was a good bit nastier, indeed.

Our analyses of the three preceding US Presidential elections were praised from many quarters from the New York Times to Nicholas Kristof to NPR to the worldwide media.  During the preceding ten years, few alleged political motivation, or denounced the standard language-measurement tools as inherently flawed. In fact, as long as readers basically agreed with the more predictable outcomes, there were few complaints.  Here were some of those results:  Ross Perot scored the lowest we’ve ever recorded, John F, Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were stars, both Bushes settled in the middle of the middle school years, and Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ speech had nearly equivalent numbers to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream’ speech and Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’.   So far, so good.  We did have a few outliers, such as Sarah Palin achieving quite a high score during her debate with Joe Biden, which was duly noted by New York Magazine and quite easy to explain.

Here’s what we attempted to communicate:

1.  Obama’s speech, though deserving a ‘solid B’ did not live up to his past efforts.

2.  Obama’s most well-regarded speech came in a at 7.4 grade level.  This is not talking down to the American people.  This is communicating clear and concisely to his audience.  This is Obama at his best, communicating with a deft combination of vision, passion and rhetoric.

In fact, our headline for that effort read: Obama’s “Yes, We Can” Speech Ranked with “I have a Dream,” “Tear Down this Wall,” and JFK Inaugural. Rather high praise, indeed.

Our commentary read:

Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech delivered Tuesday night in Chicago’s Grant Park ranked favorably in tone, tenor and rhetorical flourishes with memorable political addresses of the recent past including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s   “I have a Dream” speech, “Tear Down this Wall,” by Ronald  Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

“As is appropriate for a forward-looking message of hope and reconciliation, words of change and hope, as well as future-related constructions dominated the address,” said Paul JJ Payack President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.  “Evidently, Obama is at his best at connecting with people at the 7th to 8th grade range, communicating directly to his audience using simple yet powerful rhetorical devices, such as the repetition of the cadenced phrase ‘Yes, we can’, which built to a powerful conclusion.”

Well-regarded, indeed (and well-deserved).

3.   GLM and our predecessor site, yourDictionary.com have analyzed every presidential inaugural since that of George Washington.  The idea was, and continues to be, to look at the presidents’ words in the total historical context of the American presidency.

In 2001, we were quoted as saying,

Our goal was to spot trends that are all to easily overlooked in the political (and all too partisan) passions of the moment” [and continued that our] analysis included patterns of word usage choices, the use of such grammatical constructions as passive voice, the length of words and sentences, the number of paragraphs, and other parameters of language to gauge the content [including] the well-regarded Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale.

4.  The use of Industry-standard language analytics.  The Fogg Index, the Flesch Test, the Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Scale, and many others, are used in all forms of publishing from technical manuals to ensuring proper comprehension levels for textbooks used for various ages and classes.  This has been true for more than fifty years.

The reason we choose to use the standard tests and analytical tools was a simple one:  to enable the same set of measurements over any period of time.  And also that these analyses could be replicated by scholars and historians and journalists the world over.

5.  We use our proprietary tool, the Predictive Quantities Indicator or PQI to measure media analytics, narrative tracking, and TrendTopper Media Buzz, as such we do not use the PQI for this task.

By the Way, here are a few historical precedents;

  • Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 — 12.0.
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates, 1858 — Stephen Douglas’ seven speeches averaged a 12th-grade level 11.9; Lincoln’s averaged 11.2.
  • President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war in December 1941 — 11.5.
  • Nixon-Kennedy Debates, 1960 — The first nationally televised debates:  Kennedy, 9.6 ; Nixon, 9.1.
  • Carter-Ford Debates, 1976 — Carter, 10.4; Ford, 11.0.
  • Carter-Reagan debate  – Carter, 12.0; Reagan, 10.7.
  • Reagan-Mondale debates — Reagan, 9.8;  Mondale, 8.7.
  • Dukakis-Bush debates of 1988 — Dukakis, 8.9; Bush, 6.7 grade.
  • Bush-Clinton-Perot debates of 1992 — Carter, 8.5, Bush, 6.5, Perot, 6.3.
  • Bush-Gore debate of 2000 — Bush, 7.1, Gore, 8.4.
  • Cheney-Lieberman, V.P. Debate — Lieberman, 9.9; Dick Cheney, 9.1.

And for good measure, Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy’, Shakespeare, c. 1600, comes in at 10.6.

Now Kathleen Parker has considerably upped the ante when applied readability statistics in her premise about Barack Obama as the first ‘feminine president’ ….

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How Obama lost control of the oil-spill narrative

WORD OF MOUTH:  Colleen Ross

Colleen Ross


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The usual key to staying on top in the murky world of politics is to control the narrative. And, by all linguistic accounts, Barack Obama’s control of the oil spill narrative has slipped away.

Lonely warrior. Barack Obama counting tar balls on a Louisiana beach in May 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Lonely warrior. Barack Obama counting tar balls on a Louisiana beach in May 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

In his first prime-time address from the Oval Office recently, Obama attempted to take back the reins by employing warrior-like language.

In his best Churchill impression, he spoke about “the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens,” going on to vow that “we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.”

The president then talked about creating a battle plan as well as the need to develop energy independence and to “fight for the America we want for our children.”

Click Here to Listen to Colleen Ross’ Podcasts

The president then talked about creating a battle plan as well as the need to develop energy independence and to “fight for the America we want for our children.”

In fact, Obama’s rhetoric around America’s biggest environmental disaster has intensified in recent weeks.

Accused of not being angry enough at the company that has still not managed to fully plug a gushing oil well, “No Drama” Obama, as he was once known, is using tougher language and framing the oil spill as an environmental 9/11.

He also uttered the now oft-quoted explanation of why he’s spending so much time talking to experts: So he can “know whose ass to kick.”

Oil-spill enabler

But in this unfolding drama, with a wavering protagonist, a motley crew of characters and a slick, unrelenting enemy, one is compelled to shout in frustration: “Words, words, words!”

Duelling narratives

(An unscientific, comparison)

BP: Use remotely operated underwater vehicles to try to reactivate blowout preventer.

Political narrative: Remotely control response, i.e. let Coast Guard handle it.

BP: Introduce small tube into burst pipe to slow flow.

Political narrative: Introduce oil spill commission and temporarily stop offshore drilling

BP: Drill relief wells, this is going to take awhile.

Political narrative: Drill home the need for relief/compensation (this is going to take awhile)

Therein lies the problem, says language analyst Paul Payack. Words alone mean nothing if they are not backed up by action and, as a result, Obama has lost control of what he wants to say.

“He who wins control of the narrative controls the story in terms of political capital,” says Payack. And at the moment, Obama isn’t doing so well, which could hurt his party in the November mid-term elections.

According to Payack, the most important storyline currently defining the president is “Obama as oil spill enabler.”

Read more


Keep Presidential Speeches Smart

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Medialand

Trevor Butterworth, 06.22.10

Trevor Butterworth is the editor of stats.org, an affiliate of George Mason University that looks at how numbers are used in public policy and the media. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.

If the Gulf oil spill is a national tragedy, the arguments over President Obama’s response to it have descended into a national farce. When former law professors go looking for “ass to kick,” they end up looking like the eponymous hero of Kickass, a nerdy kid copying moves he’s seen in comic books. The difference is that the fictional Kickass was ennobled by failure, which, sadly, is not the kind of outcome open to the President of the United States in matters of national importance.

Obama’s mistake was to respond to the Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots of punditry. The country didn’t want Spock at the helm during environmental armageddon, they protested; the situation demanded a theatrically-appropriate response–as if the presidency was the background music to the movie of our lives, rousing in adversity, compassionate in suffering, a boom box of linguistic effects.

If style is the image of character, you cannot go from the calmest, most judicious intellectual in the room to a Schwarzenegger character in leather trousers and expect to be perceived as authentic. This is why responding to his critics was the wrong thing to do. By following their lame advice, by trying to be someone he isn’t, Obama sounded bathetic.

All of this is an object lesson in how democracy isn’t helped by the media. Just as an analysis of the Katrina response shows that it was a complex systematic failure of government and not a simple fumble by George W. Bush and “heck of a job” Brownie, the Gulf oil spill is not really in the league of a car wreck caused by distracted texting. The very intractability of the problem demands openness, an admission of complexity and a detailed description of solutions that are being pursued. And yet, according to one manufacturer of conventional wisdom, the problem was not that Obama’s White House address on the spill was too simple or vague, it was that it wasn’t simple enough. As CNN reported:

“Obama’s speech may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday by Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Payack, who gave Obama a ‘solid B.’ His Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.”

The president’s 19.8 words per sentence apparently “added some difficulty for his target audience.” But 19.8 words is well within the breath of television’s cutthroat culture of political sound bites, which now stands at seven seconds. Indeed, as Elvin T. Lim notes in his brilliant historical and linguistic analysis of presidential rhetoric, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, the average presidential sentence in recent years (as defined by speeches) has ranged from 15 to 20 words, well within the assumed attention span of the presumptive television viewer.

But now, even this is apparently too difficult for most Americans to follow. It gets worse. Take the following sentence from the President’s speech, “That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge–a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy.” According to Payack, this is the kind of phrasing that makes the President seem “aloof and out of touch.” It’s too professorial, too academic and not “ordinary enough.” Perhaps the President should just have tweeted “I got smart folks fixin’ to fix the oil spill” and let everyone go back to their regular broadcast fare or communicating with each other in grunts and clicks.

Read More


New York Magazine: Textbook Obama

Flash from the Past (September 21, 2009) by Paul Bonanos

Which predecessor does his rhetoric most nearly echo? The data don’t lie: It’s Ronald Reagan.


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On Tuesday, President Obama spoke to schoolchildren; on Wednesday, to Congress. The easy punch line (same grade level, guys?) raises a real question: How does this president, whose comments on health care in particular had been criticized for lacking a clear take-home message, pitch his language? Does he strategically streamline his explanations for different audiences? To find out, we called upon science, in the form of Paul J. J. Payack, “president and chief word analyst” at an Austin, Texas, trend-watching outfit called the Global Language Monitor.

What Payack found when Obama’s speeches bubbled through his software was that the president didn’t treat Congress like a bunch of kids. His health-care speech clocks in at 9.0, indicating a ninth-grade reading level; the classroom speech, at 6.6. Those two figures more or less bookend the range for contemporary oration. Both Presidents Bush tended to fall around grade 7, as did Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” comes in at 8.8.

There’s plenty of room for sophisticated ideas at that level. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is sixth-grade material. So is The Hobbit. The Gettysburg Address rates a 9.1. That’s low for the nineteenth century, when florid oratory was in vogue—the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place at an eleventh-grade level, rarely heard today. “You can imagine how they’d talk—three, four hours long,” Payack says. “It really changed with the advent of radio.”

Nor is ninth-grade language too tough for a mainstream audience. Payack says that Ronald Reagan, the master of folksy explanation, is Obama’s closest match among recent presidents, with speeches that usually come in around 9 or 10. “The word was that he spoke in sound bites, but they’re very well-crafted sound bites.” The two presidents may differ in affect, content, and approach—Obama sometimes seems to develop his ideas through the very process of turning them into oratory, whereas Reagan more or less only had one idea—but not in linguistic complexity. Indeed, Obama has often expressed admiration for the Gipper’s ability to frame issues.

Payack explains that his proprietary algorithm is a variant of the standard Flesch Reading Ease Test, which is performed on many textbooks and educational materials: “It analyzes words per sentence, syllables per word, things of that nature. The theory is that the more complex the structure, the more syllables per word, the more difficult it is to understand.” Polysyllabicism and subclauses add complexity, and skew the score toward older readers. “To reach the greatest number of people, to communicate most crisply, to make sure your idea moves from your mind to someone else’s, you should speak in short sentences.” (Representative Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” achieves a prekindergarten rating.) For comparison, a Maureen Dowd column from last week was a 10.8, a Paul Krugman piece was a 12.5, and the story you’re reading now has a Flesch score of ninth grade.

Read More

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Language mavens exchange words over Obama’s speech

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Nearly 2,700 words with little jargon
  • People understand spoken and written word differently
  • Payack gives Obama “Solid B”

(CNN) — Language experts weighed in Thursday after poring over the nearly 2,700 words of President Obama’s Oval Office speech on the Gulf oil disaster.

“It was straightforward and easy to understand,” said Ron Yaros, assistant professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, referring to the explanations of the crisis and its possible solutions. He divided the speech into 1,200 “idea units,” each of which represents a point the president was trying to make.

He then looked at how many of those idea units contained jargon — unexplained terms that the average person might not recognize — and found none in the 65 idea units that explained the problem.

Of the 417 idea units that discussed what Obama planned to do, “I found only one idea unit that probably would be potentially confusing to a nonexpert. That was the term ‘relief well.’ He never explained that.”

BP is digging a relief well that is expected to intersect with the blown-out well in August. At that point, BP plans to pump heavy drilling fluid into the runaway well, ending the flow.

“If you look at the entire speech, and you look at the amount of jargon, it came out to 1.5 percent,” he said.

iReporter:Obama’s speech too fuzzy on details

But Obama’s speech may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday by Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor.

Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Payack, who gave Obama a “solid B.” His Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.

He singled out this sentence from Obama as unfortunate: “That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge — a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s secretary of energy.”


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See “The Colbert Report’s”  Send-up of GLM’s Oval Office Analysis

“A little less professorial, less academic and more ordinary,” Payack recommended. “That’s the type of phraseology that makes you [appear] aloof and out of touch.”

Yaros disagreed, supporting the quality of the president’s explanation for spelling out the efforts under way, even if they have not succeeded in ending the flow.

“He’s just trying to be transparent,” Yaros said. “We can’t cure cancer, but I’m comforted to know that the best researchers in the nation are devoted to finding a cure.”

Payack found these three sentences insensitive: “Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.”

“You shouldn’t be saying that in Katrina-land,” said Payack, referring to the 2005 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast. “New Orleans lost a third of its population [to evacuees who did not return]; it’s still recovering.”

But he praised Obama’s phrase “oil began spewing” as active and graphic.

Obama’s nearly 10th-grade-level rating was the highest of any of his major speeches and well above the grade 7.4 of his 2008 “Yes, we can” victory speech, which many consider his best effort, Payack said.

“The scores indicate that this was not Obama at his best, especially when attempting to make an emotional connection to the American people,” he added.

Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence “added some difficulty for his target audience,” Payack said.

Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, was unimpressed with Payack’s criticism of the sentence length.

“I think we can all agree that those are shockingly long professor-style sentences for a president to be using, especially in addressing the nation after a disaster,” Liberman wrote on his blog.

“Why, they were almost as long as the ones that President George W. Bush, that notorious pointy-headed intellectual, used in his 9/15/2005 speech to the nation about Hurricane Katrina, where I count 3,283 words in 140 sentences, for an average of 23.45 words per sentence! And we all remember how upset the press corps got about the professorial character of that speech!”

Yaros challenged the value of Payack’s analysis. “There’s a tremendous amount of difference between analyzing the written word and interpreting the spoken word,” said Yaros, a former science reporter who studies how to make complex topics understandable.

Payack acknowledged Thursday in a telephone interview that his analysis is indeed based on a written version of the speech, but said that does not necessarily render it invalid. “With the internet, probably as many people read the transcript as heard it,” he said. “To think it’s not read and analyzed by tens of thousands of bloggers is looking at the old model.”

Yaros countered that he doesn’t just count words and sentences, but instead measures the audience’s comprehension of news content.

Read More

Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos

When Obama is at his best (such as the Grant Park ‘Yes, We Can speech), the President has a direct and emotional connection with the American people.  This speech, simply, did not live up to that high standard — and the numbers reflect it.

Comparisons with previous addresses and those of other presidents

Passive Voice highest for any major presidential address this century

Surprisingly high tenth-grade reading (and hearing) level


 

Austin, TX, June 17, 2010 – According to an exclusive analysis by The Global Language Monitor, President Obama’s Oil Spill speech echoed his elite ethos, with a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics.  The only specifics of the address were the continuation of the off-shore drilling ban, effectively putting tens of thousands of Gulf Coast jobs in jeopardy.  The President’s first Oval Office address came in at a surprising high tenth-grade reading level, with some 13% passive constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address in this century.  In political speaking, the passive voice is generally used to either deflect responsibility, or to have no particular ‘doer’ of an action

GLM on Obama’s ‘Yes, We Can!’ victory speech: Ranked Among the Greatest


See “The Colbert Report’s”  Send-up of GLM’s Oval Office Analysis

A previous analysis using GLM’s NarrativeTracker™, found the president’s primary narrative arc to be that of ‘Obama as an Oil Spill Enabler’.  Nothing in the address would appear to change that narrative, though formal analysis will be forthcoming in the next week.

Kathleen Parker’s ‘Empiracally Vacuous Meme-replication’

Alternet’s Dumbing Down of Obama’s speech to the seventh-grade level.

The Readability Analysis of the Oval Office address appears below:

  • Passive Voice — With some 13% passive constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century.  In political speaking, the passive voice is generally used to either deflect responsibility, or to have no particular ‘doer’ of an action, at least when speaking about himself or his Administration.  Otherwise, BP was the clear ‘doer’.
  • Sentence Length — Obama’s spoke in long, though well-crafted, sentences about 20 words in length.
  • Sentences per Paragraphs – Just below four sentences per paragraph.  Usually four sentences in a paragraph would be quite easy to understand, but the 19.8 words per sentence, added some difficulty for his target audience.
  • Characters per words – Obama’s words had an average of 4.5 letters in them, a bit longer than typical for him.
  • Flesch Reading Ease – Reading Ease came in at 59.1. The Closer to 100, the easier to read.  This is well within the normal range for Oval Office Addresses.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level – 9.8 Grade Level.  This is the highest of any major Obama speech.  Obama’s closest match among recent presidents is Ronald Reagan, whose speeches generally ranged from the 9th to 10th grade levels.  (President George W. Bush usually spoke at a seventh grade level.)

Grade-Level comparisons with other speeches of note include:

Kennedy Inaugural Address       10.8

Reagan ‘Tear Down This Wall”   9.8

Lincoln “Gettysburg Address”     9.1

Martin Luther King: ”I have a dream”   8.8

Obama 2004 Democrat Convention      8.3

Obama Victory Speech “Yes, we can”   7.4

“The scores indicate that this was not Obama at his best, especially when attempting make an emotional connection to the American people,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM.  “For example, the numbers are significantly different than the ‘Yes, I can” speech, which many consider his best effort.”

Read More:

How Obama lost control of the oil-spill narrative (Colleen Ross, CBC)

Keep Presidential Speeches Smart (Trevor Butterworth, Forbes)

Textbook Obama (New York Magazine by Chris Bonanos)

Obama Narrative 2.0 (GLM)

The President, the Spill and the Narrative that got away (Simon Mann, The Age)

FAQs about GLM, Paul JJ Payack, and the Million Word March


Obama Narrative 2.0

FFive Narratives Compete for the Title Tuesday Night


Austin, TX, June 15, 2010 – There are now five main narrative ‘arcs’ competing for the Obama Narrative 2.0 title, the underlying storyline that will largely define the president in the run-up to the Mid-term elections and, possibly, for time remaining in his term.

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.

The Global Language Monitor’s NarrativeTracker™, found the primary narrative arcs in descending order of importance to be:

1.    Obama as Oil Spill Enabler – OK, he didn’t cause it, but in today’s parlance, he appears to be enabling the perpetrators (BP or British Petroleum).  It’s score was some fifteen times higher than that of No. 5, Healthcare Reform.

2.    Obama as the Big Spender – This is a good story line if your goal is to play to the left.  Independents and the right see it as far less favorable.  Spending is have ten times the impact as that of Healthcare Reform.

3.    Obama as the Chicago-style pol – Since the beginning of the year, this narrative is up 640%.  Good for Chicagoland, not so favorable for the rest of the nation.

4.    Obama as out-of-touch or aloof – Taking time to ascertain whose ‘ass to kick’ and calling in an ever growing number of academics to resolve problems usually left to Red Adair (or Bruce Willis) has resulted in a thirteen hundred percent rise in this narrative arc.

5.    Obama as HealthCare Reformer – The bloom is off this rose far more quickly than such a triumph would typically entail. It has fallen from the No. 1 position just a few months ago.

“As of this moment, Obama Narrative 2.0 will emerge far less favorable than that of 1.0:  the  Washington outsider, who will stare-down both Beltway denizens and Politics as usual,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM.  “The Narratives emerging from this inexorably slowly unfolding ecological disaster are running roughshod over those earlier, far-more positive narratives the president is attempting to revive.

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 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. For more information, call +1.512.815.8836, send email to pjjp@post@harvard.edu, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.


Trend: Disillusionment, Anger & Outrage on the Rise


Trend:  Disillusionment, Anger & Outrage

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on the Rise Since Obama’s inauguration

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‘Deficit of Trust’ and ‘Numbing weight of our political process’ appear to be keepers

Obama State of the Union at 8th Grade Level; Deft use of Passive Constructions

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Austin, TX February 1, 2010.  According to an exclusive analysis by the Global Language Monitor, the disillusionment, anger, and outrage acknowledged by President Obama in his State of the Union address has been on the rise since Obama’s election in November 2008.

“Much has been written about what the President in his State of the Union message called the ‘numbing weight of our political process’ and the ‘deficit of trust’ it thus engenders,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst.  “The disillusionment, anger and outrage should not be a surprise, especially to students of political language, who have been analyzing what is being said in the political realm over the last 18 months.  (That this comes as a revelation to our political elites, however, should serve, once again, as a sobering lesson or, even, cautionary tale.)”

Though little noticed by the media, GLM found that in early February, just weeks after the Obama inauguration, the ‘words of despair and fear relating to the global economic meltdown were drowning out those of hope in the global media in the ninety days since the US presidential election on November 4, 2008’.

The representative fear-related words chosen:  Fear, Despair, Abandoned, Desperate and/or Desperation.  In its analysis of the global print and electronic media since the US presidential election, GLM found that those words were used with 18-23% more frequency than compared to their use in the ninety days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 of 2001 and 90-days following the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003.  (Even the word fear, itself, was at some 85% of the level it was used in the aftermath of both the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks and the onset of the Iraq War.)

In a separate but related study released in late March, Global Language Monitor found that the word ‘outrage’ had been used more in the global media that month than anytime this century, with the previous benchmark being the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In particular, the word was used in association with the AIG bonuses, which had recently been distributed.

GLM examined the global print and electronic media for the seven days after the following events:  the 9/11 terrorist attacks in, the start of the Iraq War, and the week after the Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

The ranking of ‘outrage’ usage in the media:

1. AIG Bonuses, 2009

2. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001

3. Hurricane Katrina, 2005,

4. Iraq War, 2005

State of the Union Linguistic Analysis

In an evaluation of the State of the Union message, GLM found that the President used the passive voice to deflect responsibility (a time-honored SOTU tradition), and according to the White House transcript there was an overabundance of semi-colons (two dozen plus), some used correctly others in a baffling manner.  And then there was the grammatical lapse in disagreement in number:  “Each of these institutions are (sic) full of honorable men and women ….”    For the record, the President’s address came in at the 8.6 grade level, use of the passive was about 5%, the Grade Level was 8.6 (a bit higher than his Grant Park speech), and reading ease at 62 on a scale of 100 (not as easy to read as to hear).

For more details, send email to editor@globallanguagemonitor.com or call 1.512.815.8836.


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