Diane Heldt, CR Gazette –
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom joked with friends and colleagues via email about needing “Kevlar clothes” the day his controversial article about Iowa appeared on The Atlantic website.
“Thought you’d enjoy…My order of Kevlar clothing hasn’t arrived yet….but I think I might need it,” Bloom wrote in an email in which he forwarded the article to several recipients on Dec. 9, the day “Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life” was published on the magazine’s website.
Also Dec. 9, Bloom wrote to an Atlantic editor that she was welcome to use his email for readers to contact him, and said “I’m VERY interested in your offer to launch this into social media.”
The university on Thursday released 253 electronic files that contained emails to and from Bloom’s UI account regarding the article, which ignited a firestorm in Iowa. The UI released the information in response to open records requests from the media. The $210 cost of gathering and releasing the information was shared by The Gazette and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
The university in most cases redacted names and email addresses of those sending and receiving the messages, unless they were from the news media or public employees.
Bloom noted in some emails that the article was making waves online, and he kept the Atlantic editor posted about numerous media interviews he was doing on the piece.
“It’s gone viral on the Internet, and I’m scheduled to appear as a guest on the Colbert Report Jan. 3, the day of the Iowa Caucuses!” he wrote Dec. 11.
But as controversy over the piece flared among people who said they found it a condescending and inaccurate portrait of the state, Bloom more frequently mentioned in emails that the tone of the responses made him fearful for himself and his family.
“Frankly, I’m freaked by the repugnant, small-minded reaction the piece has generated in Iowa,” he wrote Dec. 13. “In 40 years of doing journalism, I’ve never gotten threats like these. This is the real thing and it’s scary.”
There are rants, frequent name-calling and some profanity among the messages released by the UI on Thursday, but very few threaten harm. A Gazette review found three that seemed to rise to the level of threats — one that mentioned how many Iowans are gun owners who may not be very happy about Bloom’s piece, and two that mentioned wanting to assault him.
“You don’t belong here and you certainly don’t deserve to be here. I may be a country hick, in your opinion, But I can certainly kick your ass!” one emailer wrote.
One UI colleague, psychology professor Mark Blumberg, exchanged encouraging emails with Bloom and good-naturedly offered to drive by his house to check for broken windows. Bloom later wrote to Blumberg about his planned interview on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central; that appearance did not happen.
“I’d be a rube to Colbert, a foil to his trashing Iowa, but that’s the national narrative and there’s good reason for it. my only (niggling) concern is actually based on the comments you emailed me. i really hate being so hated. but, i guess, when it comes to iowa, that’s my lot in life. i stepped into it,” Bloom wrote Dec. 10, adding he had submitted his piece to at least 40 places before The Atlantic accepted it.
In another email, Bloom calls a UI colleague who criticized the accuracy of his article “mentally unstable.” In that Dec. 15 message to Garance Franke-Ruta, senior editor at The Atlantic, Bloom says the article touched off a “campaign of hate directed at me.”
“The story and its tone are unfamiliar territory to many insular Iowans,” Bloom wrote. “And now, there’s a mob mentality of piling on, let’s kick the elitist professor.”
A good number of the emails were supportive of Bloom. Many said he’d written the truth about Iowa, and encouraged him to keep his chin up.
Among those emailing to disagree with what Bloom wrote, some were cordial and even asked Bloom out for coffee or wished him well. Others suggested he could leave the state — and his taxpayer-funded teaching position — if he found Iowa so distasteful.