Not too long ago, there was a story about a guy who lost his keys in the street. He goes on to spend hours looking for them under lampposts, and only, lampposts.
When his family and neighbors came to help him search for his keys, they asked why he only focused on one specific spot?
His reply? That’s the only place where he could see anything.
This story reminds me of the countless journalists, who since the last Presidential election, claim to conduct a deep investigative expose on a group of voters (i.e. ardent Clinton or Trump supporters) but who’s final work only examines what’s most visible.
Last week, in attempt to either escape the Midwest, undermine the importance of journalism, or show the problem of believing your funny when you’re not Indianapolis Monthly journalist Adam Wren penned an article chronicling his time in deeply Democratic Northeast regions titled My 72 Hour Safari in Clinton Country.
The piece is largely trash — the author neglects to interview anyone of color, any blue-collar workers, and fails to go to Queens, the city where the current President is born, yet 92% of this area’s voters chose his opponent. Further, Adam avoids any low-income areas and visits six areas that are nowhere near the most densely populated area of Clinton supporters.
Granted, Mr. Wren levels many valid qualms of progressives: people in blue states often live in a bubble, the left’s idea on diversity can be filled with contradictions and hypocrisy, there is often unawareness of arrogance, privilege, and elitism in liberal land, and there undoubtedly an unhealthy level of animosity and generalization towards the unknown among coastal patrons.
Unfortunately, these are not nuanced and scrupulously discovered criticisms (as a 30-year-old who has lived in New York and California in the past fourteen years, these traits of liberals were apparent to me in college).
Adam’s description of the Northeast are recycled cliches of liberal America: an enjoyment of kale and kombucha, pricey avocado toast, fancy cocktails, a lust for political impeachment, and of course no piece of liberals is complete without mentioning Soulcycle. If Mr. Wren had mentioned someone about unisex bathrooms he probably would have won blue-state bingo.
In Adam’s defense, pieces by liberal authors exploring “Trump” country are equally toothless, banal, and surface-level amateur work. For a liberal expose on red country, the journalist embarks on a Jane Goodall-like academic anthropological endeavor to find the unknown, unseen, and unheard followers of DJT only to interview the same four types of people: those in economic turmoil, those comfortable with the Commander-In-Chief’s views, people who vehemently disliked HRC, or those who put no thought into their vote.
The conclusions are similarly camped in four buckets — people need help, people are decent and are not that different from us, people are stupid, or people are simply terrible.
Regardless of the interviewee(s), angle of the article, or time spent in red country the piece is another trite report examining what most of have come to understand about America. Further, if we lack the simple understanding that people’s desires, routines, and ambitions are similar than us then we have far more problems than the rational of voters. Moreover, we live in a scattered nation of 330 million people with different economic and geographical landscapes where history has altered the DNA of certain regions. Cultural differences shouldn’t be a shock.
The point of investigative journalism is to enlighten, educate, and inform. These pieces of political identity exploration fail to meet all three criteria.
So, why do these types of articles keep getting churned out?
In his debut book, Nasib Talib discusses the concept of the black swan. Often when an impactful and unpredictable event with a significant impact occurs there is a rush to provide a simple, yet sophisticated, explanation for this occurrence. This phenomenon is called a black swan.
It’s a noble endeavor to understand how certain events unfolded, but at certain point we must come to peace that there is no easy explanation. Journalists must quit trying to chase the black swan. Democracy is complex and messy. America is even more complex and messy.
There are larger problems all of us face: a lack of economic mobility, a warming planet, an erosion of the community, and deeply troubling tribal conflicts.
And none of the root of those pending crises can be investigated or intelligently opined on by a reporter propping up generalized narratives of this multifaceted nation.