Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Reporter's Guide to Iowa

Congratulations. As a reporter for a major metro newspaper, magazine or television station, you have been chosen - nay, anoited - to tag after your appointed presidential candidate through Iowa.

At least until Paris Hilton does something interesting.

Based on your performance to date, you may need a little help in order to fully and accurately report on the Iowans you may encounter in this campaign period. So slick, welcome to your Reporter's Guide to Iowa. There are just a few simple things you will need to know.

A. All Iowans are farmers. They wear only plaid, and mostly drive John Deere vehicles. This is as clearly true as the fact that all residents of Maine wear hats with furry earflaps and are employed holding buckets to maple trees.

B. Iowa exists basically in a perpetual state somewhere vaguely between 1920-1950, and is to always be portrayed so.

C. All that Iowa contains by way of structures are Quaint Little Coffeehouses (eastern) and Smalltown Mom and Pop Cafes (western.) You will find all candidates there.

D. Though you may have never set foot outside of New York or L.A., you are an expert on Iowa culture and should express that demeanor at all times. After all, you once saw a picture of "American Gothic." You are practically a native.

E. When in doubt, see "A."

Here's a good example of how to do all of the above - there's a million of 'em, but this happens to be the cover story this month of a major men's magazine, which sent an insightful writer and a famous photographer in from Times Square to tramp after one of the frontrunners.

"...On a spring Friday in sleepy Adel, Iowa" "pizza joint," the candidate "stands surrounded by pale, stern-faced farmers in plaid shirts and modestly coiffed housewives..." the story begins.

Ahhh, there now, that is how to cover this place called Iowa! Except they have left out the pitchforks and the theme music from "Green Acres..." Maybe that's coming in next month's issue.

Never mind that Adel is a suburb of several thousand 20 minutes from that giant umbrella in downtown Des Moines (not so comotose by Iowa standards... Sulphur Springs would be a bit drowsy, perhaps.)

"Stern-faced." Woo hoo, danged if that isn't a fine citified adjective, just the kind you find whole reams of in all of these voters-in-overalls stories. I've seen farmers smile, I'd almost swear I have. I think I saw one wink, once, but it could have just been a clod of soil in his eye.

And farmers, pale? Let me make a note of that - guys who work outside from morning to night are pale. Must be the new fangled tractor cabs. Sure wish I'd gone to NYU journalism school so I could know this stuff. I'm going to write Mystic Tans and suggest a premium "Farmer Tan" package.

Yes, it does occur to me that in the middle of the day in the midst of spring planting season, it is a tad unlikely that a pizza joint in a suburb would be packed with farmers to listen to political rhetoric. Instead of, oh I don't know... farming?

In fact, however, as it turns out, roving packs of stern-faced farmer gangs do happen to skulk around the streets of Adel, sternly chewing their sleepy pepperoni slices and spray-painting ethanol logo grafitti on the sides of the pizza joints and reviewing their latest political demographic data. Oh yes.

You might think it odd that all Iowa farmers in political reporting wear those hot 1970s plaid shirts on a warm spring day; that not one, for example, owns a Steely Dan tee-shirt. You might think that it is also possible that not every woman in Iowa is a housewife, and that a few may in fact actually be quite immodestly coiffed, the sleepy imps.

Well stop it. Just stop it. We are simple folk. We are not here to think, or to question the metropolitan reporters who are, after all, trained experts at exposing the true Iowa. If you don't cut it out, we're calling Homeland Security on your pale behind.

After the election, we should all purchase nice new plaid flannel summer outfits, slap our best stern stares on our untannable mugs, get our modest hair modestly done, hop on the old sleepy John Deere mower and head for New York, via L.A.

They should recognize us right away, from all the political coverage.

And, as we are well aware, everyone in Los Angeles is a gang member who drives a lowrider and wears a wife-beater and baggy pants. And everyone in New York is a cab driver named Vinnie who's primary vocabulary is "fogedaboudit."

Umm, right?

I'm not sure who's going to win the election, but it seems to me that so far, the steotypes are outpolling reality two to one. Pshaw, it doesn't matter. We'll still be pale and modestly coiffed no matter who wins. And at least with all these candidates hitting the "joints" on a daily basis, we'll be well fed.

Let's hope the candidates themselves are somewhat more insightful about their surroundings than are most of the high-powered national media that tags along after them.

If not, Lord help us all. And pass the sunscreen.

* Reach the editor at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com