February 23, 2005

Feel-Good News

Jim Geraghty notes that the way newspapers ignore or bury good news makes them much less useful. Bill at INDC Journal writes that part of the problem is that readers seem to respond more to bad news-- hence the old saying that "if it bleeds, it leads."

One of Bill's commentors, Baron Bodissey of Gates of Vienna, writes:

Bill, mostly you'd be right there. But I bet that in 1986, say, on the front page of the Post (but below the fold) you'd be likely to find a headline like "Sandanistas Opening New Clinics in Remote Areas", with a picture of cute kid opening her mouth to say "Aahh" for the socialist doctor.
Just for fun I did a Lexis search for "Sandinista" and "clinic" in major papers in 1986. Nothing on page A-1 of the Washington Post, but on page A-3 of the September 2, 1986 New York Times I did find this:

BYLINE: By STEPHEN KINZER, Special to the New York Times


For James Pfeiffer, a 26-year-old printer and contractor from Providence, R.I., spending two months helping to build a clinic in this poor town was a way ''to do something more than just protest.''

Mr. Pfeiffer and the more than 40 Providence-area residents who came with him to build the clinic here dislike the Reagan Administration's opposition to the Nicaraguan Government and they are showing their dissent in a practical way. Although thousands of Americans have traveled to Nicaragua to show solidarity with the Sandinista Government in one way or another, few have left as tangible a legacy as the group from Providence.

''I don''t like to have the feeling of always being against something,'' Mr. Pfeiffer said. ''Here was a chance for us to do something positive.''

At a modest ceremony dedicating the clinic recently, several of the volunteers said they would return to Rhode Island to speak favorably about the Sandinista Government.

''Our hearts are with the revolution,'' said Melinda Nielsen.

Sandino's Birthplace

The volunteers from Providence have spent nearly all their time in Niquinohomo, an hour's drive from the capital, and several acknowledged that they had only a partial view of Nicaraguan life. They have not met with groups that consider themselves victims of Government persecution, for example.

''There are different shadings of support for the Sandinistas within our group,'' said Richard J. Walton, a writer from Warwick, R.I. ''We don't claim to know everything or even a lot about this country, but we've seen enough to convince us that it is not the totalitarian state that you hear about.''

Niquinohomo is a typical Nicaraguan town. Many residents farm small parcels of land nearby, and many live without electricity or running water. The town's principal claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Augusto Cesar Sandino, the guerrilla hero who fought the American occupation force in the 1920's and 1930's.

Although Niquinohomo is in a peaceful part of Nicaragua, the United States-backed insurgency remains active in other areas. The Government devotes about half its budget to defense, and there is little money to provide services in towns like this one.

The whole thing is beyond parody; I'd post it all but for fear of the Times's lawyers. Suffice it to say that the rest is mostly happy-faced fluff about the building of the clinic, and that the line quoted above about only having a "partial view" is the only glance toward balance in the article.

Of course, there weren't any bloggers back then to raise a fuss. Small wonder that some old media types liked it better that way.

Posted by John Tabin at February 23, 2005 04:12 AM

John -- thanks for doing my research for me! But dsmn, I was sure the WaPo would have it...;)

Posted by: Baron Bodissey at February 23, 2005 08:16 AM

Hey, did you see that we both made TKS this afternoon? Pretty slick.

Posted by: Baron Bodissey at February 23, 2005 04:46 PM

I love that "[t]he Government devotes about half its budget to defense" line - the way it implies that the Sandanistas were impoverished by the need to defend themselves vs. the Big Bad USA, as opposed to an expansionist power trying to overthrow neighboring sovereign governments.

Also, "groups that consider themselves victims of Government persecution" - as opposed to, say, beneficiaries of government persecution.

The people who were wrong about the Cold War need to be regularly reminded of stuff like this.

Posted by: Crank at February 23, 2005 07:11 PM

This would be hilarious if it weren't so serious.

Posted by: Joe R. the Unabrewer at February 24, 2005 10:11 AM