The news agency Reuters posted a story the day after the inauguration claiming:
“President Barack Obama’s inauguration generated an unprecedented 35,000 stories in the world’s major newspapers, television and radio broadcasts over the past day — about 35 times more than the last presidential swearing-in — a monitoring group said on Wednesday.”
Bloggers seem to like this story — I’ve run into it several times — but they also seem to be accepting it as legit, though the idea that the second inauguration of President Bush garnered a mere 1,000 stories is implausible on its face. Fewer than Obama? Sure, I believe that. But by a factor of 35? Not likely.
So who was Reuters relying on for what we journalists call a one-source story? Why, it was Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor.
He’s got form as a purveyor of dubious linguistic self-promotions. The guys at Language Log nailed him good for a series of predictions about the millionth word in English. Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
Gullible reporters keep falling for a self-aggrandizing scam perpetrated by Paul J.J. Payack, who runs an outfit called Global Language Monitor. As regular Language Log readers know, Mr. Payack has been trumpeting the arrival of “the millionth word” in English for some time now. In fact, he’s predicted that the English language would pass the million-word mark in 2006… and 2007… and 2008… and now 2009. As reported in the Christian Science Monitor and The Economist, the date that Payack has now set for the million-word milestone is April 29, 2009.
In a previous installment of the Payack saga, I wrote that the Million Word March was “a progression that he turns on and off based on his publicity needs.” So I can’t say I was terribly surprised to learn that April 29, 2009 just happens to be the publication date of the paperback edition of Payack’s book, A Million Words and Counting: How Global English Is Rewriting The World. What a stupendous coincidence that Global Language Monitor’s word-counting algorithm has timed itself to accord with Payack’s publishing schedule!
Payack calls Obama “the biggest story of the century so far,” and Reuters quotes him further:
Payack said that according to his group’s monitoring, the Obama campaign and election story had generated 717,000 citations in print, television and radio across the world in 2008 and 254 million mentions on the Internet and in Web blogs.
That surpassed media interest generated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the global financial meltdown in 2008, the Iraq War in 2003 and the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Payack said.
The tallies were calculated using the group’s proprietary algorithm which tracks the frequency of words and phrases in the global print and electronic media, the Internet and major databases.
People with editors are not supposed to fall for silly press releases.