My interview and subsequent profile of a local county official had gone dreadfully, but I thought the work I showed Bloom was just shy of transcendent. The article swarmed with clichés, truncated thoughts, and, for reasons still unclear, a three-paragraph stream-of-consciousness section intended to convey "what it all meant" that I found positively profound.
Bloom handed me back the piece, bleeding in blue ink. The word "rewrite" stretched across the bottom. "Reads like a puff piece," he told me, though I had no idea what a "puff piece" was. The journalistic lesson, however, was clear: No one reads PR.
Now six years later, Bloom made thousands of enemies in Iowa last week for a piece that's anything but PR. In his article on The Atlantic's website, Bloom -- who's originally from New Jersey and clocked time in the Bay Area -- called Iowa a place that's "culturally backward" (wam!) and teeming with "slum towns" (pow!). Bloom, 60, went on to question Iowa's undisputed role as national kingmaker in presidential politics. He insinuated that a homogenous state of white hunters and casserole-gobblin' football fanatics doesn't represent our free-wheeling, wildly diverse nation. (Full disclosure: I enjoy both casseroles and football.)
Bloom, who has taught journalism in Iowa for nearly 20 years, also got dinged on accuracy. He said Iowa is 96 percent white; the figure is actually 91.3 percent, according to the 2010 Census. He also incorrectly harpooned the local newspaper the Cedar Rapids Gazette, which I once wrote for, for a banner headline about Easter it never ran (though the phrase he recalled did in fact appear on its A1 that day). He additionally asserted that Iowa will likely rescind gay marriage, when that's very much in question.
And a great furor across the heartland did awaken. Dude's getting hate from all sides. Nearly 1,500 comments have spawned below his column, many of them angry, vindictive, and aimed at Bloom himself. One of his fellow professors unleashed some profanity-laden tirades on his Facebook wall that, among other things, called Bloom smug, self-important, and a "horrible, horrible human being."
By heating up the truths of this somnolent state, Bloom brought to bear the fire of the inquisitor, fostering probing questions most Iowans would likely rather ignore: Is the state really as idyllic as everyone thinks? Why does a place that bears little resemblance to the greater nation afforded such prominence in selecting our presidents? How come its college graduates, like the ones Bloom's spent two decades teaching, flee Iowa in droves for more urbane communities?
Bloom knew how angry Iowans would be. The day his article hit the web, December 9, he e-mailed me the link with the note, "My order of Kevlar clothing hasn't arrived yet ... but I think I might need it."