Action Alert!

Another very predictable 'surprise'

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 14, 2012

From Dublin comes the news that the crowds at the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) are greatly exceeding expectations. For some oversubscribed events, organizer have been forced to put up giant TV screens, to relay the speeches to the people unable to squeeze into the assigned sites.

For weeks leading up to this event, Irish commentators have been saying that it would probably be a dud. The Church has taken some serious hits in Ireland during the past few years, morale has been drooping, and the pundits assumed that there would be a painfully low turnout for the IEC. Not so.

It's raining in Dublin now. You'd think that would depress attendance figures, too. Wrong again.

Folks, there's an established pattern here. Whenever there's a major international Catholic event--World Youth Day, the IEC, a papal visit, whatever--the media forecast disappointing crowds. Then, having driven down expectations, reporters are stunned by the size of the crowds. Church officials set an early estimate of attendance, columnists say they're being hopelessly optimistic, and then those early estimates prove low. 

By now we should all know what's going to happen. The crowds are always "surprisingly" large. When will we all stop being surprised? As a rule of thumb, always assume that the preliminary attendance estimates are too low. If you're a betting man, take the over. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Michael Burton - Jun. 14, 2012 2:09 PM ET USA

    I think you are missing a critical step: After the reporters are personally surprise, they attempt to undermine the reporting of the numbers by citing either the lowest estimate or using the word "hundreds" to describe several thousand people or "a few thousand people" to describe a quarter million.