On May 12, NBC’s “Today Show” began its broadcast with the usual array of bad news.
A story about California wildfires was followed by stories about the impact of inflation; one million COVID deaths (so far) in the United States; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and the violent death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Even the local news summary at 7:25 told us about a deadly double shooting along with the weather and traffic. Although Today’s second half-hour started on a positive note with a story about an emergency plane landing by an untrained passenger (after the pilot lost consciousness), the show soon devolved into stories about a baby formula shortage; a great white shark; and a “lone star” tick whose bite causes allergies. Even Hoda Kotb’s “Morning Boost” did not help much.
As we all know, journalism accentuates the negative. But so does history, which covers the past the way journalism covers the present. Since the days of Herodotus, the fifth century B.C.E. Father of History, historians have dwelled upon such topics as crime, empire, genocide, violence, or war. Voltaire and Edward Gibbons, the 18th century’s greatest historians, defined history as “a collection of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes” of humanity. This is certainly true of political or economic history, which mostly deals with the struggle between people, classes, races, sexes, groups, or nations. However, when it comes to social or cultural history, the verdict is not so negative.
One of the last century’s greatest historians was Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1912-1989). She won the Pulitzer Prize twice: in 1963 for The Guns of August  and in 1972 for [Joseph] Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45. Though these are historical classics, my favorite Tuchman book is A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, (1978), which won the National Book Award. Covering a century full of “plague, war, taxes, brigandage, bad government, insurrection, and schism in the Church” (sounds familiar?), Tuchman’s book mostly ignored those who led humdrum lives, even in that awful century. This inspired Tuchman to coin 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; prejudicial laws or attitudes; the ravages of AIDS, COVID and meningitis. By doing so, we often do not cover the ordinary lives that most of us enjoy, 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 wedding or anniversary. So let us recognize the positive, even as we report and denounce the negative. As Canadian singer Anne Murray famously sang, “We sure could use a little good news today.”
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.