No expert guide to Iowa

By The Gazette Editorial Board


As home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowans are accustomed to flyby journalists’ sometimes awkward attempts to describe our state.

We usually dismiss their half-baked portrayals as the slipshod work of folks who didn’t take enough time to get to know us.

But we must object to the inaccurate caricature University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom has tried to pass off as an explanation of just “what Iowa is” in his essay, “Observations from 20 years of Iowa Life,” published last week on The Atlantic’s website.

In the piece, Bloom purports to ask and answer a valid question: Is Iowa a good choice for first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses?

But instead of examining that question, Bloom trots out mostly a tired parade of stereotypes we’ve heard a million times before. That’s disappointing.

We expect to hear from a parachute journalist reductive dismissals of communities where, as Bloom puts it, “ ... serious crime is tee-peeing a high-school senior’s front yard, and traffic is getting caught behind a tractor on Main Street.”

But Bloom passes himself off as an expert guide. Judging by the volume and passion of rebuttals his piece has generated — including serious questions about the factual accuracy of several claims — it’s clear he’s got more learning to do.

Bloom does point out a few of the real challenges we face in Iowa, such as loss of manufacturing, the shifting ag economy, our aging population.

But instead of exploring those issues as trends faced by much of rural America, Bloom seems to imply Iowa’s ills are because of some inherent flaw in our statewide character. Well, not our state, exactly, but a fictional place where every resident is too old, too timid, too stupid, too high on meth, too naive to understand the grim squalor of their lives.

Bloom seems to believe this slander — calling Keokuk a “crime-infested slum town,” among other “skuzzy” Mississippi River towns; passing off every Friday night as tractor-pull-date night — is argument enough against Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

He writes: “In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it,” he writes. “Iowa’s not representative of much.”

Bloom wasted an opportunity to present a nuanced, relevant and accurate analysis of Iowa and the caucus process.

Instead of an expert observer and researcher, Bloom comes

off as a bitter, imprecise correspondent whose inaccuracies and exaggerations overshadow the serious points he tried to raise.

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