Setting the Record Straight

July 1, 2008

Good News is Bad News

A Parade Of Good News is Bad

          Romania, Parade magazine, and network news show-enders all have something in common beyond an attempt to deliver an item on conservative wish-lists: they suggest just the opposite of what they intend.
          A Reuters item from Romania caught our eye about the same time as one of Parade magazine’s worthless pablum pieces, “How to be a Better Voter,” and network news shows were ending with their usual feel-good pieces.
          Each case is an attempt to satisfy a wish by conservatives who, beyond not wanting change, wish to be protected from anything that is not all they would wish it to be, something like sex education.
          In each of these cases, the attempt is made to emphasize the good news instead of the bad news that permeates our lives.
          There is an innate problem with all of these efforts, however. By definition, news is that which is novel, unusual, somewhat rare, not a daily occurrence.
          A hundred years ago, a car crash in which no one was hurt was news. Today, such incidents are so common they no longer qualify as news. A single-fatality is no longer news beyond the immediate vicinity of the incident. Similarly, a death resulting from use of a handgun is not news in a big city and may become so commonplace due to the Supreme Court ruling that such incidents are no longer news anywhere. And on and on.
          Romania’s Senate passed a law that, if upheld, would order broadcasters to balance good news with bad in their newscasts in the belief happier news would make Romania look better.
          Given the definition of news, Romania’s message to the world actually will be, this is such a god-awful, gloomy place where nothing ever good happens,that good events have become so rare they now qualify as news.
          Similarly, more than 10 percent of the 20 minutes on nightly network newscasts is wasted on a story intended to leave viewers feeling good, presumably so they will be encouraged to tune in again the next day. The real message is that whatever the pablum story they are airing is about, it is so rarenow in America that it has become news. That is depressing.
          Similarly, that Parade magazine stuffed into Sunday newspapers, runs only good news, or at least feel-good news stories. We were attracted to the piece on voting, over the name of George Stephanopoulos, who can be somewhat forgiven because he is not a trained journalist.
          Because it was in Parade, the article could not contain anything negative, so it ended up being a 7th grade civics lesson instead of dispensing goodadvice.
          What it didn’t suggest is that potential voters stop listening to tabloid-cable shows and start paying attention to legitimate sources beyond the nightly newscasts that provide little more than headlines delivered by head-bobbing anchors and triple-bylined reporters more intent on making their story dramatic than providing any worthwhile information.
          The Parade piece advised potential voters to pay attention to what candidates say and do, but it does not advise them to be discerning about that is said and done by and about them. For example, if Gen. Wesley Clark says John McCain’s war record is not a qualification to be president, the response should be “so what?” and flip the channel until you find a real news item.
          The item also repeats the old saw, “your vote counts.” Yes it does, but citizens who cast their vote based on no or bad information or for some other worthless reason, they should stay home and do their country a favor. A bad voter is not better than no voter at all, no matter what the civics books and Parade say.
          And good news is bad news.




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