I once worked on revising a newsroom stylebook and startled a fellow member of the committee by pointing out that the highest U.S. military decoration is the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. He shook his head in disbelief. "I've always heard it as the Congressional Medal of Honor," he said. I hit him with the full weight and majesty of the Associated Press Stylebook, and he submitted, but only reluctantly, with further head-shaking and muttering.
Thus I learned a valuable lesson: Once an idea lodges in a journalist's noggin, it has adamantine endurance.
Yesterday the worthy Jan Freeman, writing at Throw Grammar from the Train, struck another blow at the "over/more than" peeve. She pointed out that this bogus distinction was exploded in 1971 by Theodore Bernstein of The New York Times, and I in my own small way have animadverted on it. Yet journalists hold to it, in the face of all research and argument, as firmly as the most purblind literalist believes that the universe appeared suddenly ex nihilo at nine o'clock in the morning of 23 October 4004 B.C.
Like the "split verb" superstition (the idiomatic English "have already heard" must be converted to the journalese "already have heard"), the "over/more than" distinction must be insisted on somewhere in journalism classes* or inserted through the fontanelles by one's early editors. The pattern is illustrated by an episode of The Wire in which a couple of veterans bullyrag a young reporter for writing that "people were being evacuated." The belief that only buildings and cities may be evacuated, not people, is, of course, another invented distinction.
Journalists are, for the most part, people, and one sees them behaving as other people do, like the people, who, once taught that infinitives must not be split or that prepositions do not belong at the ends of English sentences, or that the passive voice is a wicked thing, carry these misinformed beliefs to the grave.
Still, it would be pleasant to believe that professional colleagues, earning their bread by vocabulary and syntax, would be more open to examining and adjusting their beliefs and practices about language. And even more pleasant to believe that Jan Freeman and the others of the doughty band celebrated in these dispatches might over time achieve an impact.
*Not ever having taken a journalism class myself, I can only speculate.