The latest from Stephen Bloom

Stephen Bloom

“I’m at an undisclosed location,” Stephen Bloom tells me. “I left because I don’t want some of these crazy people who are reading everything they want to read into my story to know where I am.”

The University of Iowa journalism professor — currently a visiting prof at the University of Michigan — is still getting hate mail and threatening calls from critics of his Atlantic magazine piece, “Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life,” which was posted Dec. 9.

On Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:06:07 -0500 (EST), bcimajoyfulgirl@aol.com wrote:

Happy Hanukkah, Assclown.

Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson told readers on Tuesday that “I didn’t plan to write another word about [the Bloom controversy], but so much more fresh content has cropped up online (including the full-blown Twitter parody @StephenBloomIA) that a new list of links seems useful.” He has many.

Bloom arrived at his undisclosed location on Monday.

“I’m pleased that we’re neither in Iowa or Michigan at this point,” he says. “Last night a man called my wife and suggested I be made into a lampshade. A blog refers to me as Jew Stephen Bloom. I have received scores of hate-filled e-mails that have threatened me or my family.”

He won’t be “in hiding” long, though, as the university is back in session on Jan. 4.
“I’m not going to be bullied,” he says. “I will be back in that classroom.”

He’s been invited to appear on “The Colbert Report,” “John King, USA,” “Hardball With Chris Matthews” and “Piers Morgan Tonight,” but has turned them all down. “I believe appearing on those shows would not further discussion of the important issues raised in my Atlantic article and would descend into more vitriol,” he says.

Iowa media continue to criticize his piece. On Sunday, The Ames Tribune said that “Bloom’s choice to mock rather than enjoy the charm and humor in some of Iowa’s less-than-cutting-edge ways reveals more about him than it does about Iowa. Chalk it up to another shoddy piece of parachute journalism.”

On Monday, Des Moines Register columnist Ken Fuson called Bloom’s Atlantic essay “one of the funniest pieces you’ll ever read” and said that “at first glance, his essay reads like your typical cliché-choked, stereotype-stuffed, banal broadside against Iowa. Yawn.”

Instead, he has crafted a brilliant parody of what a loopy liberal professor from San Francisco would write if he tried to explain to his friends at Berkeley and Harvard why he has just wasted 20 years of his life in “Flyover Country.”

Bloom’s response to the guffaws and brickbats from Iowa media and residents:

Many Iowans – perhaps many Americans – today aren’t accustomed to sharp opinions that are at odds with their own views. If it doesn’t echo your own viewpoint, it’s wrong. If it doesn’t echo your own viewpoint, maybe it’s elitist, east coast, liberal media bias. …There’s a financial incentive for the Iowa media not to rock the Caucus boat. Political advertising means revenue for newspapers, TV and radio stations.

He adds that reaction to the article “is not machismo, it’s ‘State-ismo.’ It’s scary. Love it or leave it.”

Does he now regret writing the piece?

“When [the negative feedback] involves my family I feel absolutely horrible, and when my wife had to get that [lampshade] phone call, I felt like vomiting. But I knew as a journalist, stepping into writing this provocative post, that there would be problems. …That’s the nature of the business.”

There is a long, proud American tradition of the kind of journalism I practice. It involves humor, parody, satire, observation, and reporting. It goes back to Findley Peter Dunn (who coined the expression I live by as a journalist, “the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”), Jack London, James Agee, H.L. Menken, Grant Riceland, Marvel Cooke, Jim Murray, cartoonist Paul Conrad, Tom Wolfe, Mike Royko, Hunter S. Thompson, and scores of other courageous journalists.

I’m certainly nowhere even close to any of these titans and I would be the last to profess that I am, but the story I wrote comes from this essential legacy that each of these journalists gave us.

* Earlier: Not everyone hated Bloom’s essay about Iowa

Comments

comments

12 comments
  1. I was a journalist for 25 years, and find it curious that Bloom is now blaming reporters and editors for fanning the flames. If he ever spent any time in a newsroom, he would know that the claim is as preposterous as is the term “media elite”. You cannot herd journalists any more than you can herd alley cats. I think it’s very unfortunate that he feels threatened in any way. That shouldn’t be. And by all means, he’s entitled to his opinion. But as a dog-owner, non-hunter, liberal, straight-toothed, educated, Saab-driving gay man who lived in Texas for 10 years before returning to the Hawkeye state, I can say that Bloom is not entitled to his own facts. I can well imagine how his Iowa City acquaintances feel like they have been sucker punched. And, honestly, did he think so little of Iowans to actually believe that his column wouldn’t stir up some justified frustration and anger? Time to get out of that ivory tower, Professor Bloom, and start observing the real world.

  2. SpaceyG said:

    That faux Twitter stream should win a Pulitzer. LMFAO.

  3. Lacey said:

    I have been closely following this story since it broke on numerous papers’ sites, blogs, and parody sites. I have OVERWHELMINGLY seen intelligent, polite critiques which mostly consist of contention with factual errors and puzzlement of his long stay given his opinion. Therefore, I will not reiterate those here. What I will say about his ‘threats’ is: how many people believe this? I don’t, at least not the prevalence and degree for which he is alluding. I’m not going off of the fact that I was a previous student, neighbor, fellow liberal, jew-loving Iowan. I’m going off of the fact that I have witnesses several blatant lies, and tantrums given by Bloom. This guy is getting his 15 minutes, unfortunately at the cost of Iowa. Most Iowans would agree that 50-60 % of the problems he addresses in the original article are ACTUAL problems. Most Iowans don’t have a problem with that. They have a problem with the deceptive delivery (parody wrapped in true journalistic reporting), and factual errors. We have already seen this guy fudge numbers, names, geography, and exaggerate. With this kind of pattern as a Journalist, I do agree there have been bonehead threats, but I certainly do not believe he has been threatened to the degree or prevalence that he suggests.

  4. Dave said:

    The “Jew Stephen Bloom” comment was from a post on a very obviously anti-Semitic discussion forum, made by a Californian, and not a blog post. Bloom, working in a media-related field, surely know the difference. And yet, apparently he does not, because the only other alternative would be that he is an intellectually lazy and dishonest attention whore, cynically looking to keep playing the victim, poking the hornet’s nest, and dragging his 15 minutes out as long as possible. But that couldn’t be, could it?

  5. CDD said:

    I’m from rural Illinois, and recognize some of what he wrote. But I also recognize a pathetic and sad individual that seems to have stayed someplace he doesn’t love. That is sad. But that he’d try to pass off his hatred of the Iowa/Midwest way of life as universal truth is just .. sad. Plays well on the coasts, or anywhere self-described erudite liberal media elite meet to gather and look down on the rest of America.

    I don’t live in the midwest any more, but I’d be more than happy to help professor holier than thou find his way back to his true home in San Francisco or New Jersey — two places I’ve been, and would never live. To each his own.

    Iowa will do just fine without him, I’m sure.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

  6. Erin said:

    Yeeeeahhhh, I was covering a murder last year, and the victim’s drunk brother staggered up to me, poked me in the chest and told me to stop interviewing people “or I am going to punch your teeth through the back of your head.” The victim’s other friends and relatives stepped in and pushed him away from me. I kept reporting discreetly and did not move to an undisclosed location.

    But, you know, thank goodness we have REAL journalists like Bloom risking it all to afflict the comfortable meth addicts and suicidal farmers and other desperately untalented citizens of Iowa.

  7. Kathy said:

    The only “crazy people” are Bloom and now apparently his wife. He is obviously not thinking straight and his cliche threats are a little too contrived to be believable. It is obvious he is a bitter person and has little happiness inside him. I believe in German it is called being a “bicycle-rider” –the type of person who can’t feel “up” unless they are using their other leg to hold someone else “down.” One more thing, the reason he is turning down the interview request? Please, Bloom, it is because they will discredit your already marginal reputation as a “journalist” more than you have already done to yourself.

  8. Tory Brecht said:

    I’ve been following with interest the fallout from Stephen Bloom’s piece in the Atlantic. Full disclosure: I’m a ’93 Iowa grad who was in the very first class Steve ever taught at Iowa. For many years, I’ve viewed him as a mentor. I came back and spoke to his class a few times after graduation and also sought his counsel when I took a part-time adjunct faculty gig teaching journalism at a community college in Illinois in 2005.

    Professor Bloom is a genuinely nice guy, a talented writer and a good teacher. While he always had a tinge of arrogance about him, I never sensed mean-spiritedness.

    That’s why I, and so many of my fellow ex-students, Iowa newspaper colleagues of mine and now several of Bloom’s colleagues at Iowa’s J-School were so taken aback by the tone of his piece.

    It came across as spiteful, condescending and belittling. I felt personally offended, something not easy to accomplish considering I developed a pretty thick skin working as a reporter for nearly two decades. And unlike most, it wasn’t necessarily the stereotypes of Iowa that hit me hardest. It was what appeared to me to be Bloom’s conscious decision to eschew the journalism values that he paid lip service to time after time in class, in one-on-one discussions and even when he paid a visit to the Quad-City Times a couple years ago to help us work on narrative writing. That is, TRUTH above all and using ACCURATE observation to build a narrative. To me, his cardinal sin in this entire episode is a conscious decision to not let facts get in the way of the story he wanted to tell.

    I agree that there are valid criticisms in the piece – many of which I wrote about as a reporter in the “skuzzy” river town of Davenport: namely, the brain drain, relative lack of economic dynamism, and cities struggling with similar “rust belt” issues as counterparts further East. These are worthy of noting and attention. But what many of his ex-students pointed out in The Atlantic comment section is that once you forego accuracy for the sake of hyperbole, you lose credibility. And we were taught that by Bloom! I’ve had colleagues suspended without pay for having single errors in multiple stories in a matter of weeks. Bloom managed to get a year’s worth in one long article. He was either extremely lazy and sloppy in his reporting (doubtful from the skilled reporter I know he is) or just didn’t care if the fact didn’t jibe with his personal agenda (much more likely, and damning in my opinion).

    And now he is playing the victim card. I have no doubt that a vocal minority has been hateful and threatening in their language. But the vast majority of criticism has been even-keeled and accurate. Did he really think he could do a drive-by evisceration of an entire state – filled with the people who pay his salary – and NOT experience heated backlash? That is incredibly naïve.

    I’m sorry for the long-winded comment, but this is a subject I’m passionate about. Like Bloom, I’m not an Iowa native. In fact, I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which – if you believe those cheesy articles in places like Money magazine, etc. – is often listed among the “best places to live” in the United States. I can say with conviction that his portrayal of Iowa is unfounded, misguided and ridiculously overblown. My adopted state has problems – what state doesn’t in the current climate – but it did not deserve the ludicrous attack he unleashed through his inaccurate reporting.

    Finally, my mom always told me growing up that “you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Bloom in his post-firestorm comments wants us to believe he considers Iowa his home and seems to claim that pointing out the state’s warts (some of which were grandly overstated and some of which, like the Mississippi River being economically irrelevant, aren’t true at all) is helping to define the problem. But I would argue this is not a helpful piece at all.

    In fact, it is a hatchet job of elitist babble that offers not a single suggestion for how to improve the conditions he cites. He wrote an anthropological study of an alien culture (Iowans), not a legitimate piece of advocacy journalism, though he tries to bluster past that with his squishy comment about “shining light into dark corners”.

  9. Tory,
    That is among the most articulate and well-reasoned responses I’ve seen to Professor Bloom’s screed.

    From an Iowa native and fellow journalist, I say, “Thanks.”

    Tom Daykin
    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
    University of Iowa ’84

  10. Person of CHoler said:

    “Findley Peter Dunn”, “H.L. Menken”, Grant Riceland”

    Er, that would be Finley Peter Dunne, H.L. Mencken, and Grantland Rice – “Professor” of “Journalism”.

  11. Westie said:

    Prof Bloom appears to be a type of “Buggy Whip Manufacturer warning Other Buggy Whippers To Stand Up To Those New Fangled Autos”. Wonder if he realizes how his little rant shows his ignorance and unsuitability for anything concerning actual modern journalism.
    What a great subject for a series of PhD dissertations.

  12. vanderleun said:

    ust in case you missed it, Lilkes fisks this toad to within an inch with:

    Apparently Mr. Bloom has fled Iowa in terror, but he told Romanesko:

    There is a long, proud American tradition of the kind of journalism I practice. It involves humor, parody, satire, observation, and reporting. It goes back to Findley Peter Dunn (who coined the expression I live by as a journalist, “the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”)

    Journalists love that line. I remember getting it from a guy who pulled down the equivalent of the President’s salary in 1980. Never occurs to the people who quote it with such smug self-approval that it’s completely at odds with the idea of fairness and objectivity. It presumes that someone who is “comfortable” – defined by the journalist in his Olympian wisdom, of course – deserves to be afflicted. If we take it to mean that the journalist should hound the plutocrats and bosses and everyone else with their boot on the next of The People, then the word “comfortable” exists only to provide the symmetry that gives the aphorism the ring of profundity.

    http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/11/12/122211.html