Magazine article Politics Magazine

The Narrative's Narrative

Magazine article Politics Magazine

The Narrative's Narrative

Article excerpt

THERE IS A LOT OF TALK in Washington these days about the "narrative." The word pops up frequently in headlines as pundits and pols talk about how President Obama has regained (or lost) control of the narrative on, say, healthcare. Or maybe it's Capitol Hill Democrats and financial regulatory reform. Or the economy. Or Supreme Court nominees.

If you've been reading or hearing the word with increasingly regularity, it's for good reason. According to a new media study, "the narrative" has become the most used political buzzword in the run up to the 2010 elections.

The survey was conducted by the Global Language Monitor, a small firm from Austin, Texas. Since 2003 the group has monitored news sources from around the world and charted how frequently words or phrases appear. It has developed a Predictive Quantities Indicator, or PQI, for commonly used words to determine which terms are the most popular. Every six months, the group publishes its findings. Terms like "chad," "swift boating" and "change" have topped the firm's previous reports.

What is striking about "the narrative" is that unlike previous chart toppers it is now being used to describe policy--not just politics. Paul Payack, the firm's president, says he has been amazed by how the term cropped up during the healthcare reform process, effectively obscuring any substantive debate.

"The narrative had become such a captivating word right now," he says, "It doesn't matter what the actual policies are, it's whether they fit a narrative or not."

A few examples: On February 15, The Financial Times wrote that just a month into his administration "Barack Obama ... has lost control of the political narrative." On, March 6, The New York Times noted that "the Obama White House has lost the narrative in a way that the Obama campaign never did." On March 26, the Huffington Post headlined a story: "The Start of a New Obama Narrative. …

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