Sesame Street and “Good News”

s-elmo-largeWell, it’s come to this. Elmo, Big Bird and gang are heading to the unemployment office. Ouch. Times are bad — and not getting much better. But I learned one of the reasons why earlier this week during a visit with my “wealth creation advisers” at Merrill Lynch. The news media, they said, are too focused on bad news. Sigh.

First, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of Sesame Street, is eliminating 67 of 355 jobs, about 20 percent of its work force, according to a story in The Washington Post and elsewhere, including USA Today. And this is a way for me and I’m sure others to highlight the depth and reach of the recession. But it’s really not that funny. We’re talking about real jobs and real people here.

And not just those living on Sesame Street.

The U.S. economy is still shedding more than 500,000 jobs a month and unemployment tops 8 percent nationally — with forecasts of continuing job loses throughout the balance of this year and well into next. No wonder Oscar is grouchy.

And along with these numbers you have the housing crisis, the need to bail out the nation’s large banks and figure out a way to rescue the auto industry, the meltdown of the global economy and continued disclosures of greed, unethical and in some cases illegal activity involving the Wizards of Wall Street and the former Captains of Industry. By the way, if you are in New York City today at 10 a.m. don’t forget to stop by and give a shout-out to Bernie Madoff who is expected to be in court pleading guilty to stealing billions from individual investors, charities, foundations and so on. I digress.

So saying all that it’s tough at times to view the glass as being half full — instead of trying to figure out which asshole has taken another big gulp while you weren’t looking. But my Merrill Lynch guys say this is the problem. People are fixated on the negative and guess what. It’s mostly the fault of the news media.

Like many in the financial community, stock brokers and analysts keep the TV on all day in their offices, watching CNBC. If that doesn’t distort reality, nothing will. Just ask Jon Stewart. I digress, again. Sorry. Anyway, I was in the Merrill Lynch offices the day Warren Buffett was interviewed on CNBC.

The advisers opined that Buffett was upbeat; proclaiming that the stock market, which essentially has flat-lined, now presented a great buying opportunity. But the media weren’t reporting it that way. (Glass half full.)  Nothing but looking at the negative. (Glass half empty.)

I demurred, remarking that I heard Buffett say the economy had fallen off a cliff.  (Ah, half empty?) That didn’t sound like the best news to me, coming from the Oracle of Omaha.

OK. I’ve heard this lament about the news media before. We all have — particularly if you have worked or are still working in journalism or public relations.  When I was at Goodrich in corporate PR in the early 1980s, one of the senior managers said to me the recession at that time would end immediately if the Wall Street Journal would just print a headline saying , “Recession Over.”  He was serious about it.

If it were just that easy. I think we can alter perception — but not reality. And if anything, the news media was not tough enough at questioning some of the actions of the Bush administration and the Wizards and Captains that led to this traffic wreck on Sesame Street and elsewhere.

Yet it’s hard in a way to discount this idea that it is better to exploit the positive than dwell on the negative.

For instance, Tuesday, the day after my visit to Merrill Lynch, the stock market rallied on an apparently leaked memo from the pathetically managed Citigroup that pointed to better-than-expected financial results (glass half full) — rather than the billions in taxpayer dollars that were needed to keep the doors open and the lights on. (Glass half empty.) Hey, we’ll take good news these days wherever and whenever we can find it. And I do think it is important to tell positive stories these days — much like NBC is doing this week on the evening news.

So here’s my solution to the economic crisis.

Every newspaper, radio and TV station, blog, social networking site and Twitter should declare today: “Recession Over.”

But if that doesn’t work, how about naming Oscar to oversee the TARP money?


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