Most mornings I wake up early and start my day with a murder. To be precise, I begin my day with the early news on my local television station; and that program always starts with coverage of last night’s killings. With an eye on the ratings, local TV news outlets are convinced that the viewers are more interested in violence and mayhem than in acts of human achievement or kindness. In other words, “if it bleeds it leads.” Watching the morning news, one might think that people in our community are too busy killing, raping, robbing or cheating one another to do much of anything else.
There is no question that journalism accentuates the negative. But so does history, which tries to cover the past as thoroughly as journalism covers the present. Since the days of Herodotus, the 5th century B.C.E. Father of History, historians have dwelled upon such unsavory topics as crime, empire, genocide, violence or war. Voltaire and Edward Gibbons, the 18th century’s greatest historians, defined their craft as “a collection [or register] of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes” of humanity. This is certainly true of political or economic history, which deal with the struggle between people, classes, groups or nations. However, when it comes to social or cultural history, the verdict is not quite so negative.
One of the historians who looked into this matter was Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1912-1989). One of the last century’s greatest historians, Tuchman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for “The Guns of August”  and in 1972 for “Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45.” Though both books are historical classics, my favorite Tuchman tome is “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century” (1978), which won the National Book Award. Covering a century which, like ours, was full of “plague, war, taxes, brigandage, bad government, insurrection, and schism in the Church,” Tuchman realized that she had to dwell on the negative at the expense of the positive. After all, there are many people who lead humdrum lives, even in that awful century. This inspired Tuchman to come up with her own “Tuchman’s Law”:
“Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening – on a lucky day – without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: ‘The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold’ (or any figure the reader would care to supply).”
As a contributor to LGBT journals, I realize that much of what I write about is negative: what we do to others and what others do to us. Much of our print and online periodicals deal with bad news: youth or adult suicide; anti-LGBT violence; homo-, bi-, or trans-phobic laws or attitudes; the ravages of AIDS. Here again, our journals do not cover the ordinary lives of most of our community members, because they are so common. To its credit, news organs like SFGN often deal with positive events, whether it be a coming out; an achievement by one of our sisters or brothers; or even a couple’s anniversary.
So let us recognize the positive, even as we report and denounce the negative. And let us agree with Canadian country pop singer Anne Murray, who in 1983 made a musical request for “A Little Good News.” Written by Charles Black, Rory Bourke, and Thomas Rocco, this Grammy Award-winning, number 1 country classic begs for days and news programs where the positive predominates: “Just once how I’d like to see the headline say – Not much to print today, can’t find nothing bad to say”
“Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today
And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play
And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA
We sure could use a little good news today . . .
“Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single building down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today . . .”
by Jesse Monteagudo