The War on Pessimism


by Paul Gilbert
The Washington Post, October 23, 2001

From the first moments of the attacks on New York and Washington, television provided us with unforgettable images of violence and destruction. Our emotions flooded like ruptured dams, as coverage ran twenty-four hours a day, making it impossible to escape the cycle of shock, anger, grief and fear. We are still recovering from that trauma, which redefined the concept of reality programming.

But as rescue workers dug deep into the rubble, so did TV news. Freed from time, ratings and fiscal restraints, television journalists rose to the occasion. Interspersed with breaking news and expert analysis of the disaster, were a steady stream of stories that spoke to our hearts.

They were stories of courage, kindness and compassion. About ordinary people who became heroes, survivors reunited with co-workers and families, volunteers who couldn't stop giving. People at their best, at the worst of times. The good news was only a trickle compared to the torrent of bad news, but it reaffirmed our humanity in the face of terror.

With war now underway, along with smart bombs and laser-guided missiles, America needs to add another weapon to its arsenal: good news. Network. To maintain our resolve during such an uncertain time, we will need more than billions of taxpayer dollars and overwhelming military resources. We also require the ability to consistently generate renewed spirit and hope.

Some years ago, the inventor of 24-hour news, Ted Turner, proposed a Good News Network. At the time, it wasn’t deemed commercially viable, but now may be the perfect time for Turner to pitch GNN to the board at AOL/Time Warner, CNN's new owners. With the world’s largest-media company eager to boost sagging ratings, and with its substantial news gathering resources already in place, this seems like a good bet.

Maybe this sounds like some idealistic fantasy, ignoring the realities of the television business. But talk about defying reality, who would have believed six weeks ago, that terrorists using jetliners as bombs, could blow up the World Trade Center or that CBS, NBC and ABC News would be the intended victims of germ warfare? The world has changed, and we need to start thinking outside the box, or in this case, the set.

We face a difficult and complex future, and our basic safety and freedom have been threatened. But that doesn’t mean we should live our lives in fear, simply waiting for the next installment of bad news. We have to learn to keep asking ourselves, "Okay, what’s the good news?"

This crisis has presented us with an opportunity. We can recognize our fundamental need for hope, to help balance out horror, to remind us of our capacity for goodness, as well as evil. In addition to fighting this new war on terrorism, we can also start waging one on pessimism.

Wendi Gilbert