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Little Miss Sunshine

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Feeling blue? Depressed? Worried about your economic future? Well, BusinessWeek has some advice for you:

Snap out of it!

That's right. The magazine that brought you the blog "Recession in America" before we were officially in one is now rolling out "The Case for Optimism," a special project that will culminate in a "collaborative" double issue in August. In a video on BusinessWeek.com, editor-in-chief Stephen Adler explains the idea behind the project this way: "You actually have a choice. You can be the kind of person who sees the glass as half full or as half empty. And it's just as rational to see it as half full as it is to see it half empty."

Adler says he became a half full kind of guy after attending the birthplace of all Really Big Thoughts, the World Economic Forum in Davos. After listening to all those Debbie Downers at Davos dissing the economy -- "Everyone was jumping on the Nouriel Roubini bandwagon," Adler laments -- he feared that the same kind of "groupthink" that brought us into the economic abyss was now threatening to keep us there. So Adler decided to do something about it. The Case for Optimism was born.

There's already a Case for Optimism page on BusinessWeek.com. (Sample happy headlines: "Good News on the Mortgage Mess"; "A Comeback in the IPO Market." The only thing missing are exclamation points.) There's also a blog and a proprietary Optimism Index, which last we checked registered 39 on a scale of 1 to 100. Clearly, we have some cheering up to do. Essays on optimism will also run in the magazine, the first of which appeared in the June 8 issue and whose main point seems to be that Americans are, by nature, an optimistic bunch -- a point author and longtime political reporter Richard Reeves proves in part by punching the words pessimism and optimism into Google. Guess what? Optimism wins hands down. "Is that infallible or even rational?" writes Reeves of his results. "Maybe not. But it is American."

Well, bully for us.

Reeves suggests that this type of American optimism is going to help pull us out of our current economic straits -- a thought that seems to run through this entire BusinessWeek project, like a Norman Vincent Peale sermon for the financially depressed. Never mind that too much optimism helped get us into this mess in the first place (as in the so-what-if-my-monthly-mortgage-payment-is-more-than-my-income-since-I-can-always-refinance school of thought). Do we really believe we can enthuse our way to recovery? The economy and its woes are more than just an attitude or a feeling; they're unfortunately very real. And you can see your financial future any way you want to, but that isn't enough to make it so.

In the video, Adler, interviewed by his No. 2, executive editor John Byrne, is almost giddy when laying out his case for optimism, which includes lots of money sitting on the sidelines; government infusions; an uptick in lending; and improvements in the stock and housing markets. Says Adler: "I see a lot of signs that things are picking up, and it's just as rational to jump on that bandwagon and see that as something positive as it is to always be seeing the negative side of that."

But isn't that the rub? If it's just as rational to be optimistic as to be pessimistic, why does the media have to pick one or the other? Why are those the only two choices? Adler wants us to think positive -- in the video, he urges us to. But why can't we just think neutral? Or undecided? Or still trying to figure it out? Why does the media always make us choose between black and white?

Adler and Byrne seem pleased with themselves for choosing white. Noting in the video that journalists have long been criticized for focusing on the negative, they boast of taking the opposite tack. But that seems weirdly misguided. Except for a brief period last fall when the media took a drubbing for acting like an economic Chicken Little as Congress mulled over a stimulus plan, the media has mostly been faulted for being too positive about the economy in the run-up to the crash, not too negative. The knock on the business press has not been that it was pessimistic, but that it wasn't pessimistic enough.

No matter. BusinessWeek is forging ahead with The Case for Optimism project. We're looking forward to that August special issue. Still, we can't help wondering what it will look like if something catastrophic happens between now and then.

Yvettte Kantrow is executive editor of The Deal.