A few weeks ago very few people had ever heard of Rowan County, the residence of only 23,655 people bordering the Appalachian Mountains. There are many small towns across the country which can boast of more people. Ask a hundred people at random and I’ll wager that not many recognize the name of this county, but you can be sure that many will recognize its most famous (infamous) resident, Kim Davis. That’s right; she is the county clerk who was jailed for contempt of court when she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
At first I was perplexed as to why this woman was getting so much attention. All of the cable news channels and network news organizations had reporters and camera crews on location reporting on her every move. News anchors and talking heads endless discussed what she might or might not do next and whether or not she is justified in her stance she had taken. Mike Huckabee who was obviously busy running for President took time off the campaign trail to travel to Morehead, Kentucky, a booming metropolis of perhaps 7,000 people and county seat of Rowan County, in order to soak up some of the stray attention reflecting off of Mrs. Davis. You know that this tiny town has never come close to seeing a Presidential contender before, even one as desperate for attention as Mike Huckabee.
Now Davis says she never sought the national attention she has so generously received. Upon returning to work after being released from jail she said, “I never sought to be in this position, and I would much rather not have been placed in this position.” Yet, of all of the county officials authorized to issue marriage licenses in 3,007 counties across the United States, she is the only one who has defied a judge’s order by refusing to issue licenses to all same sex couples while continuing to issue them to everyone else who applied. There were many other county officials, especially in the South, who also disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling and sought legal remedies to support their position. However, they eventually they stood down when their legal options were exhausted and issued licenses to everyone, if allowed to do so by state law, a few ceased issuing licenses to everyone.
It was especially difficult to tell how much Davis hated the spotlight when she triumphantly walked out onto a platform in front of her supporters after being released from custody. She had a huge smile on her face and both of her arms were thrust into the air like the winner of an election. If she resented having Mike Huckabee hold one of her arms up like a boxing referee declaring the winner of fight, she tried very hard not to show it.
Yet you and I know about this obscure county clerk in an equally obscure county in the backwoods of Kentucky only because national news organizations were willing, no eager, to cover her story. You would be hard pressed to find a better example a very small news story blown all out of proposition by news organizations determined to attract viewers. Had Kim Davis refused out of conscious to issue marriage licenses to people who have been divorced, we would have probably never heard of her. Yet, in order to increase their ratings the TV networks made Davis a stand in for all of the Christian social conservatives who bitterly resent the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage. They also offered her up to the rest of us as an example of bigotry hiding beneath the veil of Christian beliefs. Both sides the debate gobbled their coverage up.
It is a sad fact is that this two bit county clerk in a town we never heard of got her week of fame because the news networks know this is the kind of story we want to see, whether it is important or not. That says as much about us as it does about them.