Talking With: Stephen Bloom’s Observations on Iowa

Yale talks with four native Iowans about the depiction of them and the state they call home in Stephen Bloom’s scathing and controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly, his motives for publishing it, the response its generated across the state, and its national implications with regards to Iowa’s first in the nation voting status.

This episode is dedicated to Bozenka “Bessie” Soucek, born and raised in Iowa City and who just celebrated her 99th birthday by having drinks at The Mill with her family.

This episode brought to you with the generous support of YOTOPIA

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All previous episodes are available online at www.talkingwithyale.com

9 Responses so far.

  1. Travis says:

    Wasn’t it Patrick Hogan who looking through the microfilm at the Gazette headlines?

  2. Yale Cohn says:

    You are correct, Travis, it was Mr. Hogan who first brought Bloom’s fabrication to light, but it was Scott Dochterman who posted the disputed pages online. http://thegazette.com/2011/12/14/heres-the-gazettes-easter-sunday-front-page-in-1994/

    Thanks for pointing that out.

    -Yale-

  3. Matt says:

    As someone who moved from Iowa City to California, I can verify that there are a HUGE amount of hicks here.

  4. Karla says:

    Interesting that two of you found it necessary to mention, as if it were one of Bloom’s faults, that he is Jewish. More than one of my Jewish friends have mentioned the subtle, and in this case not really all that subtle antisemitism in Iowa. As a Mexican-American I’ve been confused with a Pakistani friend by people with Masters degrees. My 80-unit apartment complex has several Indian families and a native Iowan who complained to the manager about all the Aaa-rabs she let in. I’ve lived in 5 other states and this is the absolute worst in terms of diversity and culture. You feel free to make fun of New Jersey. As a former Californian I’ve been disgusted by the sneering anti-California remarks Iowan’s make.

    Bloom can be obnoxious but his opinion piece is being judged as if it were reporting. And, by the way, MANY political observers think Iowa should lose it’s first place status. It really isn’t representative and I agree that the caucus process is not representative either.

  5. Yashar says:

    Matt,

    As someone who moved from California to Iowa City, I can tell you there are a HUGE amount of hicks in California too. Ever been to a Wal Mart out there? They come out of the woodwork.

  6. Mattchew says:

    Karla,

    Let me point out that Bloom himself calls out his Jewish heritage in contrast to what he (perhaps correctly) perceives as a largely homogeneous culture of Caucasian Christianity – so the fact that it’s mentioned in that clip is likely in reference to that, not as an accusation of a “fault.”

    A lot of people wouldn’t dispute the fact that Iowa’s status as first caucus (to say nothing of the caucus process, or for that matter, the two-party system) is questionable – and if Bloom had approached that in a professional manner, more similar to his work on Postville or the Oxford Project, I doubt this would have garnered the notice it did.

    A master’s degree in anything does not guarantee that prejudice will not exist – one would hope it would, but it would seem to me that the likelihood of that could vary as widely as the number of fields in which it is possible to earn a master’s degree, so I’m not sure that your anecdote is all that relevant to whatever muddled point you’re trying to make here. In regards to your story about your apartment complex, I believe you could find a similar story in every other state in the Union; please, go back and try again, because that’s hardly unique to Iowa.

    As a former Californian, then, would you be disgusted if Bloom were to go and question the poor financial state of California’s government finances? Or its massive urban sprawl? Or its immigration troubles? What about how the economic downturn of the past decade has affected California – that the gap between 1% and 99% is just as pronounced there as it is on Wall Street? Would you complain if Bloom approached all of that in the same manner that he approached this shoddy work of journalism (and make no mistake – this was no mere “opinion piece,” because he sure as hell didn’t represent it in that manner)?

    And if turnabout is fair play – why, then, is mockery of New Jersey fair, but “sneering anti-California remarks” are not? See, nitpicking works both ways…

  7. Yale Cohn says:

    Karla, in case you didn’t notice my last name, or aren’t terribly clued into such things, I, myself, am Jewish.

    I don’t have any photos from my Bar Mitzvah to share with you as, alas, it occurred in the pre-digital era and all the photos from that day are back at my parent’s house in Chicago, and the only other photographic proof I could offer you right now would be a terribly personal thing to share with a stranger, but I can assure you, from the bottom of my latke-laden heart, that I am not, in fact, an anti-Semite.

    Happy Hanukkah, and thanks for watching.

    -Yale-

  8. Westie says:

    Nice site Yale. One area of history of which I’m a fan is Small town America as well and thus will follow stories such as Prof Bloom’s about his fellow Iowans with interest. I think the cascading and anxious response is a fascinating glance into the soul of this country.

    The wonders of new media is the it allows an immediate response from a completely disparate and now vocal collection of observers. This is a good thing especially for the closeted academic/urbanite ‘elitist’.

    On the plus side this lead me to the U of I Journalism site where I found Bloom’s work on “The Oxford Project” very interesting and well done.

    So much so that I sent a positive message to Bloom and the U of I President, just to balance the scales and in the spirit of the season.

    Happy Hanukkah and may your New Year live up to your expectations!

  9. Jim says:

    Des Moines Register shows that this gentleman received $99,000/year base pay as I assume a tenured professor. I would like to put forth the idea that if you are a Public employee that makes public remarks to a private rag for personal gain… then your tenure should be considered accountable by any such remarks… Possibly an unpaid one to two-year sabbatical, with a public research paper due by the end, exploring all the conjectures and statements made, with hard statistical evidence to back it up… There are plenty of State Organizations to which a savvy President of the University could appoint him…

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