Radio station 1010 WINS in New York City advertises, ?You give us 22 minutes, we?ll give you the world.? The whole world? It?s amazing how they can fit all that information into such a brief time. In a similar vein, the 11 o?clock news never runs past 11:30, and the three network newscasts never run over their half-hour time frame.
This can be done because newscasts are predictable. They focus on the same sorts of stories -- murder, mayhem, natural disasters -- and they tell those stories the same way, by focusing on the negative. Good news usually ends up on the cutting room floor.
Raise your hand if you can name the new Iraqi president. He?s Jalal Talabani. On April 6 he became the country?s first Kurdish president, and in fact the first non-Arab president of an Arab nation.
Then he faded from view, being replaced on page 1 by more typical stories, such as the Washington Post?s April 19 report titled, ?The Grim Reaper, Riding a Firetruck in Iraq;
Marines Recount Dramatic Assault At Base Near Syria.?
It?s true that Talabani?s post is symbolic. But what?s critical here is that he wanted it. Kurds celebrated his selection, and opposition Sunnis and Shiites allowed it to go forward. Those are all great signs, because they prove the Kurds are committed to remaining a part of Iraq, and that their Arab neighbors want them to remain. That should be news.
After all, just last year the press was wondering if Iraq could remain united. A May story in Newsday, for example, worried ?about a new kind of civil war between the country?s two main ethnic groups: Arabs and Kurds.? Maybe those reports of Iraq?s impending demise were premature.
The problem is that while the media did a good job covering the horse race of the Iraqi election -- remember all the purple-stained fingers? -- once the ink wore off, so did the media?s interest.
Reporters forgot that democracy is messy and often slow, and that it sometimes takes weeks or even months to get big things accomplished. They resorted to stories like the April 2 Washington Post report that began, ?The protracted delay in naming a new Iraqi government has alarmed the country?s powerful Shiite Muslim clergy, who worry that growing popular frustration may endanger the government?s legitimacy.?
In fact, the new government has legitimacy because of the length of those talks. Genuine power sharing involves compromise on all sides, and that?s clearly what was going on in Iraq. Such negotiations are less photogenic than a car bomb, but in the long run will prove much more consequential.
The media?s focus on the negative infects us at home, as well. That was evident in our supposed lack of flu vaccine last fall.