Did you all see the piece in the Washington Post about poor Beth Cox from Hendersonville who was dismayed when Romney lost the election?
This kind of story really bugs me, because a person unfamiliar with a place seems to just parachute in, focus tightly on one person, and from that tight focus, seems to want readers to extrapolate about a whole place. Beth Cox, therefore, isn't just Beth Cox from Hendersonville, she's a kind of everywoman, standing in for a legion of Romney voters who think just like her.
The story is riddled with clues to the problems with this approach. Check this out:
Here in the heart of Red America, Cox and many others spent last week grieving not only for themselves and their candidate but also for a country they now believe has gone wildly off track. The days after Barack Obama’s reelection gave birth to a saying in Central Tennessee: Once was a slip, but twice is a sign.
Eli Saslow wants his readers to believe that he was here long enough to gain real insight into voters like Cox, but he wasn't even here long enough to learn that there's no such place as Central Tennessee.
It also seems like Saslow deftly avoids stumbling over a more interesting story. Note how he says, "a state where Romney won 60 percent of the vote, a county where he won 70 percent, and a town where he won nearly 80." and then, just a few paragraphs later, he says this, "She had run the small GOP campaign headquarters in Sumner County by herself for six days a week during the last four months."
Now, those two things juxtaposed against each other is interesting to me. Eighty percent of Sumner County voted for Romney, but the GOP campaign headquarters was "small"? Cox ran it by herself? We're supposed to believe that Cox is representative of a great many Republican voters in Middle Tennessee, but if all Republican voters were so gungho about Romney that they'd be as stunned as Cox was that he didn't win, where were they in the four months before the election? Surely, even if Republicans came to believe that Romney had it in the bag, no one was certain who would win four months ago. Why didn't Cox have help?
I'm not trying to argue that Sumner County isn't firmly Republican. What I'm getting at is that this type of story is one that the coastal types love to write about the inland regions, especially the South: "Let's get to know one of these mysterious, misguided, simple, backwoods goobers and through our time with this one emissary of the South, we can understand the whole region!" These stories always miss the complexities of the region because it's about promoting stereotypes, not understanding real people.
It'd be nice if, while the Republicans are busy rethinking how they perceive the country, some media outlets did the same.