Real Problems at the Root of Fake Scenario

The movie “Janeane from Des Moines” has created a lot of headlines recently. Everyone from the New York Times to Iowa’s home-grown newspaper, The Des Moines Register, has mentioned the issues brought up in this mockumentary.

With our state’s “first in the nation” status, Iowans have the coveted role of meeting political candidates in-person, asking them tough questions and sharing our vision with the rest of the country. We welcomed these candidates into our homes, we introduced them to our friends and we established a bond with them that goes well beyond Election Day. We put our trust and hopes in these candidates to lead us, to make our country a better place to live and work.

One only has to look back over the past few months, with the almost unprecedented presence of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan to see the impact Iowa can have on any given national election. Just last night in his final campaign stop for the 2012 election, President Obama praised Iowa voters for their intellect, their passion and their commitment to the process, Regardless of your political party, those were compliments that should make all Iowans quite proud.

We know the candidates aren’t perfect — they are human after all. But, we do rely on them to have some responses and solutions to the problems weighing voters down. So, when we saw first-hand evidence that candidates struggled with how to respond to voters’ very personal appeals for help, it really shook our beliefs in the people and in the system.

That’s why “Janeane from Des Moines” has really created waves. It pointed out those flaws, and it made those of us working to improve the political process feel like dupes, unable to help. These are real problems our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens are facing. We should have been able to provide voters with more than just a campaign’s taglines or talking points.

When I met “Janeane from Des Moines,” I didn’t know it was a fake scenario. I was truly upset at this woman’s obvious distress in not being able to get the answers she so desperately needed. Even after realizing it was a set-up, I was still sympathetic to the issues the actress and the film bring up. Voters in this election cycle — like so many others before it — have real problems they want solved, and it is in the hands of our elected officials to help them.

That said, I have to admit the movie, and my unsuspecting role in it, did bother me. My real beef with Janeane’s (or should I say Jane Edith’s) stunt is this: In Iowa, we depended on the interaction with the candidates to be relevant as an early test ground. It was our opportunity to listen to what they have to say and measure their characters. We took this role very seriously, and so did the candidates. If future candidates come to think Iowa voters are part of some stunt for a movie, or conspiracy to trap them in situations that make them look bad — not real people with real problems — they may choose to stop taking questions and possibly even feel like they can’t be honest with us.

To let this happen would completely undercut the entire premise of Iowa and our status of first in the nation. The lesson learned from this situation is this: It is the voters’ job to be just as honest and as forthcoming as we expect our political candidates and elected officials to be. In return, candidates and elected officials need to continue to do a better job of relating to voters’ problems and give them more than just a campaign-approved sound bite in response.

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2 Comments

Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris, Reputation Management

2 responses to “Real Problems at the Root of Fake Scenario

  1. Hello Bob. This is Jane Edith Wilson, whom you met as “Janeane.” I want to thank you personally for being a good sport about appearing in the film. But I also respectfully take issue with some of your statements. If you did see the entire film, you can see that not many regular citizens have the fortitude Janeane has to get real answers, especially in a time of personal and economic crisis. When we screen the film for real citizens of every political persuasion (which we have) they all feel that Janeane is very real, and her situation and questions both relatable and heartbreaking. I welcome you and your readers to view the film and judge for themselves how wide the gap is between campaign trail rhetoric and everyday reality for thousands of Americans. They should judge for themselves whether this movie is a “stunt” or whether it simply documents the candidates’ honest responses to a citizen in need. Also — please remember that when we met after the Rick Perry rally– you took Janeane’s personal phone number but not one person from the Perry campaign ever reached out to answer any of her very important questions about jobs and healthcare. We never set out to “entrap” anyone — we made the film to start a conversation about the Janeanes of the world and how nobody is listening to her. If people want to judge for themselves, Director Grace Lee and I welcome further conversation about this issue — especially among my fellow Iowans.

  2. The candidates take Iowa seriously because Iowans take them seriously. That relationship is at risk if candidates think everyone approaching them is a filmmaker.

    Iowans have an uncanny ability to see through imposters on the stump. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat; if you’re not authentic, you’re not going to get their vote. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of small states like Iowa.

    You’re correct; no one returned your request. I never passed it along because I thought you were a “tracker,” a two-person video crew intent on getting terrible footage for an attack ad. I suspect because you weren’t honest with me, my Iowa sense caught picked up an imposter vibe.

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