Bloom on Iowa: Piled higher and Deeper

Clfford Claussen uses a tractor to spread manure on fields near Bettendorf, Iowa Monday Feb. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Quad-Ci
Clfford Claussen uses a tractor to spread manure on fields near Bettendorf, Iowa Monday Feb. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Quad-City Times, Jeff Cook)

University of Iowa Journalism Professor Stephen Bloom may have unwittingly done Iowa a favor by penning an acid, inaccurate and condescending essay about his adopted state, published last week by The Atlantic.

Not so much himself, maybe, as readers continue to systematically dismantle the claims, factual and cultural, he makes in attempt to describe to Atlantic readers this irrational foreign land.

Bloom told Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson the overwhelmingly negative response has, for the first time in his professional life, made him feel "frightened" for his family's safety -- all because he was just doing his job:

"This lengthy story asks readers to think about the long-term future of Iowa," he told Munson in an attempt to explain away the outrage. "It raises uncomfortable truths rarely discussed — but truths that absolutely need to be discussed no matter how difficult it may be to do so."

But it's not difficult truths -- rather the convenient untruths -- that have Iowans so up-in-arms about Bloom's depiction of their state.

In fact, the odd factual bits contained in Bloom's piece -- the economic struggles, the "brain drain" of bright young adults leaving for bigger cities and greener pastures (Bloom neglects to mention that the trend reverses as those kids start having kids of their own) -- have been covered as thoroughly as a spring field is covered with manure.

I don't begrudge Bloom his opinion -- unmistakably outlined through his  impressions and inventions. It was Bloom himself, then my grad school advisor, who counseled me years ago that there is no one story to tell about an event or place.

Don't worry so much about telling the definitive story, he'd tell me. Tell your story.

Still, that his story is so outrageous and unfamiliar to the Iowans he attempts to describe should be a wake-up call to anyone calling himself a journalist. But that's Bloom's business, not mine.

I just wonder that The Atlantic couldn't find a correspondent more interested in digging in and describing a place and a people, rather than presenting such a rude caricature.

Luckily, Bloom has made that easier for them. Not, surely, through his own work, but by inciting a surge of eloquent and passionate responses to his piece.

Take the piece by UI Student journalist Rebecca McKanna, who testifies that in all her years of Iowa dog walking, hunting never has come up. Or her colleague Adam Sullivan, who compiled this short list of Bloom's observations he considers outright false.

There are others, and certainly there are more to come.

If The Atlantic truly is interested in discovering Iowa's beating heart in this last push toward next month's Caucus -- and they should be -- they'll give those other Iowa voices the attention they deserve. 

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