Iowa’s ‘uneducated Jesus freaks’

My dad used to tell me a story about a man getting off of a train and asking the station manager for information about the town he’d just arrived in.

“What’s the town you’re from like?” the station manager asks. The man explains that it’s not very nice. The people aren’t that smart or nice and the food isn’t that great and you can’t keep a job and the ladies are all uppity.

“Well, I imagine you’ll find this town’s a lot like that, too,” the station manager responds.

When the next train stops, another man gets off and asks the station manager the same question. “What’s the town you’re from like?” the station manager asks. The second man explains that he was blessed to come from a beautiful town with nice people full of interesting conversation and fun hobbies. People work hard, the kids are generally fun and he misses it terribly.

“Well, I imagine you’ll find this town’s a lot like that, too,” the station manager responds.

You get the point. Well, I thought of that story when I read this absolutely hilarious (unintentionally, I should mention) piece in The Atlantic about how much University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom loathes his state. It ran a few weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to look at the piece since then but with Iowa caucuses happening tonight, it’s now or never!

The piece itself is remarkable for how much hatred comes through but also for how many errors are contained within. First, let’s get a taste of the piece:

Hats are essential. Men over 50 don’t leave home without a penknife in their pocket. Old Spice is the aftershave of choice. Everyone knows someone who has had an unfortunate and costly accident with a deer (always fatal for the deer, sometimes for the human). Farming is a dangerous occupation; if farmers don’t die from a mishap (getting a hand in an auger, clearing a stuck combine), they live with missing digits or limbs.

Comfort food reigns supreme. Meatloaf and pork chops are king. Casseroles (canned tuna or Tatertots) and Jell-O molds (cottage cheese with canned pears or pineapple) are what to bring to wedding receptions and funerals. Everyone loves Red Waldorf cake. Deer (killed with a rifle is good, with bow-and-arrow better) and handpicked morels are delicacies families cherish.

Religion is the glue that binds everyone, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian. You can’t drive too far without seeing a sign for JESUS or ABORTION IS LEGALIZED MURDER. I’m forever amazed by how often I hear neighbors, co-workers, shoppers, and total strangers talk about religion. In the Hy-Vee grocery store, at neighborhood stop-and-chats, at the local public school, “See you at church!” is the common rejoinder. It’s as though the local house of worship were some neighborhood social club — which, of course, it is. A professor I know at the University of Iowa chides her students for sitting in the back of a lecture hall, saying, “This isn’t church, you know.”

Now, when people claim that magazines and newspapers run hate pieces like this, I frequently find myself saying something like “Now, now, let’s not exaggerate.” But it’s hard to do that when, well, when major outlets such as The Atlantic see nothing wrong — and a whole lot right — with publishing rot such as this. This reads like a parody of what conservatives claim journalism professors and journalists think about them. Except that, you know, it’s not a parody. That’s what’s so amazing. And for a spot-on, side-splitting parody, read “Is This Hell? No, It’s Iowa” by Iowa’s own, well, IowaHawk. Make sure you read the original before you read the parody, though. This fake Twitter account is also worth a regular chuckle.

Anyway, here’s another choice paragraph:

When my family and I first moved to Iowa, our first Easter morning I read the second-largest newspaper in the state (the Cedar Rapids Gazette) with this headline splashed across Page One: HE HAS RISEN. The headline broke all the rules I was trying to teach my young journalism students: the event was neither breaking nor could it be corroborated by two independent sources. The editors obviously thought that everyone knew who He was, and cared.

It turns out it’s not true. There was a small box with a verse from Matthew on the front page that contained those words. But the front page headline was about a murder. Anyway, the next paragraph is:

After years and years of in-your-face religion, I decided to give what has become an annual lecture, in which I urge my students not to bid strangers “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter,” “Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done?” or “Are you going to the Easter egg hunt?” Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery “Happy holidays!” will suffice. Small potatoes, I know, but did everyone have to proclaim their Christianity so loud and clear?

Even journalism professors are allowed to have opinions about how much they hate themselves or other people. I’m pretty curmudgeonly myself, to be honest. But they should probably be careful about the facts.

The hate screed was certainly big news in Iowa. Iowans of all religions and political persuasions responded decisively to Bloom. He’s probably still licking his wounds. But the errors did get other media coverage.

For one thing, The Atlantic did not handle the corrections well. As Columbia Journalism Review put it:

But elsewhere in its response to critics, the magazine has broken one of journalism’s golden rules: errors should be corrected forthrightly, and with as much fanfare as the original mistake was made. The piece erroneously stated that the state’s second-largest newspaper, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, ran an Easter Sunday headline in 1994 “splashed across Page One” that read, “He Has Risen.” The Gazette has since produced a copy of that front page. The top two headlines are actually about a murder in the state and ethnic cleansing in Croatia, with a small (albeit odd and journalistically inappropriate) box above the fold quoting a Bible verse that includes the words “He is risen.”

Rather than simply concede the error, The Atlantic added this note as one of a number of “corrections and clarifications”: “A 1994 newspaper headline both Prof. Bloom and his wife recall is different from the one on the edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette unearthed by a reporter for the paper from its archives.” But there is no debate here: the story was wrong; no evidence has been presented that the dramatic headline exists. And the fact that Bloom remembers that small box as dramatically as he does perhaps says something about the lens through which he has viewed his adopted home state from day one.

Errors are bad enough. Covering them up or trying to downplay them is worse.

The Associated Press didn’t mince words with their lede to the story:

Only a few weeks before the first Republican presidential contest, some Iowans are on the attack like never before.

They’re writing angry blog posts, doing research to discredit their opponent and railing against elites, but this vitriol isn’t aimed at Republican candidates. It’s focused on University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom, whose article for The Atlantic magazine painted Iowans as uneducated Jesus freaks who love hunting and don’t deserve the political clout they will exercise Jan. 3. …

“You can chip away if you want at this story, but it raises some fundamental central issues that Iowans and Americans need to confront,” [Bloom] said in an interview. “I think America should sit down and have a collective discussion on the wisdom of how we select our president and how inordinately important Iowa is in that process.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, he added: “Sorry if I offended, but that’s the real job of journalism.”

Causing offense (particularly by making stuff up) is not “the real job of journalism.” What’s unfortunate about all this is that it’s Stephen Bloom and his editors at The Atlantic who are responsible for this really shoddy and error-drenched piece of journalism. But so many other reporters and journalists have to deal with the fallout.

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  • sari

    Wow! Bloom may have a whole ‘nother career as a comedian. Here’s his sign(Engvall).

    Two things. Our first Christmas in Central Texas, the local paper ran a huge Merry Christmas header across the front page. It’s now archived and cannot be retrieved without cost (to me), but it’s there for anyone who wants to look. We had been profiled the January prior on page 1 as an Orthodox Jewish family being relocated as part of an enormous corporate move. I called the editor and asked, basically, what’s with this? Is your readership so overwhelmingly Christian that you can afford to ignore the rest of your subscribers? A couple of years later, the headline disappeared.

    Second, the Gazette’s bible quote may have been a paid advertisement, much like the “Jewish women and girls, candle lighting times are …” that appeared on the NYT page 1 every Friday. For a long time there was no attribution, but (I believe) Chabad-Lubavitch was the sponsor.

  • Dave

    Clearly the story is journalism, and clearly it’s about religion, but it’s far from clear that this is an example of the press not getting religion. We can’t define “getting religion” as avoiding certain kinds of stories; that’s idea-police country and we don’t go there.

  • Stan

    Yes, Bloom’s article is factually challenged and is not a good model for journalists. I attribute it to the overdose on Iowa that one gets every four years, but especially this year, when journalists have followed the horse race for the Republican nomination with far too much zeal. If one followed only the reports on the Republican caucus goers in the mainstream media one might conclude that Bloom’s article was accurate. However, that tells only one story. After all, Iowans have voted Democratic in five out of the last six Presidential elections and has repeatedly elected one of the nation’s most liberal Senators. It is home to one of the great state universities and is far more diverse than one would think from the coverage of the Republican caucus. While many of the details in Bloom’s article may be true (and many are not), the article fails to convey the state accurately.

  • James

    “Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery “Happy holidays!” will suffice.”

    Happy holidays, huh? I suggest this professor not add etymology to his list of skills in his curriculum vitae…

  • Stan

    P.s. Although as I said above, I think Bloom plays fast and loose with the truth in his article, Mollie also misrepresents the case about the headline Bloom cites. Here is how the correction is handled: “In a note to Bloom, Gazette editor Lyle Muller said of the headline: ‘a couple of other people here thought this sounded familiar. But we cannot find it on any front page, nor features page covers. Perhaps it was a rack card; I don’t know.’” I’m not sure what a “rack card” is, but it seems that the headline may have existed if not exactly where Bloom remembered.

    This YouTube video may be an answer to Bloom:

  • Stan

    Sorry the vid I tried to embed did not work. Or perhaps GetReligion doesn’t permit embedding videos in the comments session. I’ll try it again, but in any case it can be found on YouTube under the title “Iowa Nice (Clean Version)”.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Stan,

    Many people are more upset with how The Atlantic handled the corrections — trying to squirm out of them — than the original piece. It’s either correct or incorrect that the newspaper had “this headline splashed across Page One: HE HAS RISEN.”

    A couple of people thinking it “sounded familiar” is just not going to cut it. It’s either correct or incorrect.

    A rack card is not a headline, and it’s pretty clear he was misrepresenting the (journalistically somewhat odd) small box with the Bible verse as a large-font headline splashed on page one.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Stan,

    Here’s the link to the video. The “clean version” still has some minor cussing but it’s very funny.

  • R9

    Is this really hateful? I’m not seeing that in any of the bits Mollie quoted. The most damning but I found was more a comment on economic reality than condeming the people.

    I feel the word hate is thrown around too quickly these days. People like demonising their openents. Why bother considering what someone has to say and letting them challenge your worldview? when they’re so obviously HATEFUL! omg so awful!

    I mean I’m sure there are plenty of GR writers and readers who are oppose to homosexuality and get upset when they’re called hateful for it.

  • http://www.faithandgeekery.com Justin

    R9,

    From Bloom:

    Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”

    No idea in what context “an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth” isn’t hateful. Having lived in rural Iowa for years (And arriving before Bloom did), I can say I know no one who meets this criteria.

    And thank you, Mollie – I now have a favorite Twitter account to follow.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    It does seem to be that the journalism issue here is CJR puts it: The Atlantic brings a surly tone to its “Corrections and clarifications” about Professor Bloom’s piece that matches some of the author’s own churlishness when they are pointed out. I can’t see how journalism is served when writers and editors respond to having errors pointed out the same way I used to respond when I was eight and my mother told me to tell my sister I was sorry for fighting with her even though I didn’t regret it at all.

  • Mark Baddeley

    R9,

    Possibly ‘contemptuous of the place and the people’ might have worked better. He wasn’t just saying, ‘I think what they are doing is morally wrong’, there’s a lot of unpleasantness in the way he’s written a number of things:

    The state is split politically: to the east of Des Moines, Iowa is solidly Democratic; to the west, it’s rabidly Republican.

    ‘solidly’ versus ‘rabidly’? If someone opposed to same-gender sex described supporters of gay marriage as ‘rabid supporters’ would that possibly get a ‘hateful’ descriptor?

    Whether a schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa should host the first grassroots referendum to determine who will be the next president isn’t at issue. It’s been this way since 1972, and there are no signs that it’s going to change. In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa’s not representative of much. There are few minorities, no sizable cities, and the state’s about to lose one of its five seats in the U.S. House because its population is shifting; any growth is negligible. Still, thanks to a host of nonsensical political precedents, whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later. Go figure.

    “Go figure” at the end kind of tips the hat that has been implicit throughout this paragraph – Iowa doesn’t ‘deserve’ its prominence in US Presidential elections. It doesn’t reflect the qualities Bloom thinks would merit that (hmmmn, wonder if there’s some urban eastern states up north that might, just possibly, be better candidates?)

    That’s fine – but the churlishness of saying words to the effect of ‘Whether such a triply negative adjectived state should be in this position isn’t at issue‘. Then riffing on everything bad about it, then saying ‘non-sensical political precedents’, then finishing with ‘Go figure’. He certainly doesn’t sound like he likes the place.

    And then there’s these two:

    Everyone strives to be middle-class; and if you have some money, by God you’d never want to make anyone feel bad by showing it off.

    But it was vintage Iowa, invoking the name of Jesus as though everyone believed in the good Lord’s son and his providence.

    I don’t know what’s so hard to see here. If someone was describing their time in a Muslim country and wrote these sentences and had ‘Allah’ rather than God/Lord there’d be little debate that this was seriously disrespectful. And that’s fine, that’s free speech. But that is what it is. Deliberate, churlish, adolescent disrespect from some academic who can’t stand the place his job has required him to live in for twenty years. The contempt comes through in the way he deliberately trashes what he thinks is valuable to his fellow Iowans.

    And then there’s this pearler:

    What Average Joe in Iowa wants to admit he clings to anything — except hunting, fishing, and the Hawkeyes? Guns, religion, xenophobia? Them’s fightin’ words.

    Obama might have been wrong for telling the truth, which seldom happens in politics, but the future president was 100-percent accurate when he let slip his comments on the absolute and utter desperation in America’s hollowed-out middle, in particular in the state where I live.

    He just called Iowans ‘xenophobic’. Does he offer any evidence? No.

    He mentions waves of illegal immigrants and implicitly indicates that enables slaughterhouses to keep wages so low that only illegal immigrants will take the jobs and hence unemployment of American citizens in the state high. If there is illwill to them under those circumstances that’s hardly ‘xenophobia’ – it actually has a solid economic basis.

    He also mentions lots of wealthy Chinese students with less than perfect grasp of English. No suggestion that there’s any animus to them.

    He comes across as wildly xenophobic – after twenty years he still doesn’t seem to have a single unreservedly positive thing to say about his ‘new’ home. Culture shock wears off after a while, after that it is your problem. But like most people like that (and hence the opening story in the post) the problem is all ‘out there’.

    We can debate ‘hateful’ but it is certainly full of animus, undeserved animus from the evidence he’s offered.

  • Martha

    Yay! You linked to Iowahawk’s pitch-perfect parody!

    I actually read that first, and when I’d finishe wiping the tears of laughter away, I thought I’d better read Professor Bloom since he couldn’t possibly have written anything along the lines of what the parody intimated.

    Good grief, was I mistaken.

    The thing that struck me (apart from the bad writing style) was the little anecdote he told about when he first arrived in Iowa for his job at the University, during Spring Break, and wandered around amazed that no-one was there.

    Excuse me, but he was astounded that during the Easter holidays (as we uncultured types over here call them), on a university campus, most or all of the students had left to go home (or go off on holiday)? Some observational skills! What did he think occurred on his first Christmas there – mass alien abductions? Every shop closed, nobody on campus, the streets eerily empty save for bright flashing lights… definitely the little grey men have landed!

    I did wonder why, if Iowa is so soul-crushing, Professor Bloom stayed there for twenty years – then I read his on-line bio at the University of Iowa website. Turns out he has a B.A. from Berkeley – and that’s it. No mention of any further or higher educational attainments. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a primary degree wouldn’t even permit him to teach national school over here, much less third-level (he would need, at minimum, the HDip or similar qualification as well to certify him as a teacher). Looks like he’s biting the hand that fed him, regarding Iowa and its University.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Cynics like Bloom are carriers for their wet-blanket outlook on life and people.

    Thanks for highlighting his loose use of the truth in his writing and his hypocritical teaching methods.

  • Martha

    “The headline broke all the rules I was trying to teach my young journalism students: the event was neither breaking nor could it be corroborated by two independent sources.”

    And now I have to wonder: do all of his students, when they’re released into the wild and go into their first newspaper/print media jobs, follow this example?

    Scene: “The Smallville Times and County Spectator (founded 1893)” newsroom. Date: Fourth of July. Present: Junior Reporter, proudly clutching his University of Iowa journalism degree and grizzled old editor.

    Editor: Okay, son, here’s an easy one to get you started. Do something to run under our front-page banner headline “Happy Independence Day!”

    Junior Reporter: Sorry, chief, no can do.

    Editor: Oh, come on, it’s just a re-write of George Washington crossing the Delaware and the proud tradition of Smallville in commemorating it every year since then. Our regular guy could write it in his sleep – well, if he hadn’t died, that is, which is where the opening to employ you came in.

    Junior Reporter: Yeah, about that, chief. That crossing the Delaware – it happened in 1776, right?

    Editor: So I’ve been told.

    JR: Then it’s not breaking news. And this Washington guy – have we two independent sources on that?

    Editor: What?

    JR: I mean, unless there’s corroboration, we can’t take it at face value that what this Washington claimed happened actually did happen. And they have to be living – no “some guy wrote it down three hundred years ago” nonsense! At least, that’s what Professor Bloom always said!

  • Dale

    Martha wrote:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but a primary degree wouldn’t even permit him to teach national school over here, much less third-level (he would need, at minimum, the HDip or similar qualification as well to certify him as a teacher).

    A writing program instructor (both in creative writing and journalism) is one of the few academic positions in the U.S. that doesn’t require a Ph.D. Another would be in fine arts. Bloom’s experience as a working journalist presumably substitutes for an academic credential.

    He’s currently a visiting prof at the University of Michigan, a top-tier university, and University of Iowa has a nationally renowned creative writng program. So Bloom probably doesn’t have any trouble getting a gig on the coasts rather than the heartland. He probably tolerates Iowa because Iowa City, where the University of Iowa is located, is an insular colony of the enlightened amongst the great unwashed– a self-concept prevalent among midwestern college towns.

    Who knows– maybe he’s intentionally antagonizing the denizens of Iowa in the hope he’ll receive political refugee tenure at Michigan.

  • Dan

    The assumption is that it would be shocking, and wrong, if the second largest newspaper in Iowa ran a banner headline “HE IS RISEN” on Easter. All it would mean however is that the paper is guilty of a certain form of boosterism that is commonly seen in smaller newspapers and sometimes seen in major dailies also. A classic example I remember is from when I was a kid growing up near Chicago. It was September, 1967 and the Chicago White Sox were in a very tight pennant race. They had a doubleheader against Kansas City, which was in or near last place, and the White Sox had their two aces, Joel Horlen and Tommy John, pitching. It should have been an easy sweep that would have probably enabled the White to win the pennant. But they lost both games. The banner headline in the Chicago Tribune the next morning was: GOOD GRIEF SOX LOSE TWO.

  • Dan

    “The headline broke all the rules I was trying to teach my young journalism students: the event was neither breaking nor could it be corroborated by two independent sources.”

    It is obvious (to me anyway) that Professor Bloom intends this statement as a sort of joke. The real presumed offense is celebrating a religious belief that is not held by all citizens. But he says instead that the story of Christ’s resurrection does not meet the standards of journalism. Ha. Ha. And it is mildly clever. (However, is the statement true? It is only if an “independent source” means a non-Christian; but any non-Christian who witnessed the resurrection would almost certainly become a Christian (ask Saul of Taurus).)

  • Julia

    Heard about this from my newspaper brother. Wonder if the professor already has another job lined up.

    The following link is to an intelligent discussion on Iowa City TV hosted by a guy named Yale Cohn with commentary from 2 editors, a realtor and an employee of the U of Iowa MBA program who grew up on an Iowa farm. In general, they think Prof Bloom was writing provocatively to get attention and he succeeded. Otherwise, the Atlantic might not have purchased the article. This panel has an interesting discussion about whether Iowa should have the first crack at Presidential politics and caucuses v. primaries. The author himself never really got around to saying much about his stated subject – the caucuses in Iowa; this panel does.

    http://patv.tv/blog/2011/12/18/talking-with-stephen-blooms-observations-oniowa/

  • Bob Smietana

    It’s an op-ed piece. So why is Getreligion surprised that Prof. Bloom expressed his opinion, even if Getreligion doesn’t like it.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Bob,

    I think GetReligion’s interest is in the second half of the post – how the paper handled the multiple factual errors in an op-ed piece written by a guy who teaches aspiring journalism their craft. And the particular error of fact that was most egregious in how the paper handled it concerned a religious matter where the professor was displaying an inability to ‘get religion’.

    In the comments interest has been more spread between to the halves of the post, but Mollie indicated the segue and the ‘so what’ of the post fairly clearly with these words:

    Even journalism professors are allowed to have opinions about how much they hate themselves or other people. I’m pretty curmudgeonly myself, to be honest. But they should probably be careful about the facts.

    i.e. while the first half of the post sets the scene by discussing his views, that’s not what the point of the post was about. It was about the journalism inherent to the errors and how they were handled.

    But, as always, we had people saying, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad”, and some of us felt the need to respond. But that wasn’t the post.

  • Jeffrey

    But it’s not an op-Ed Bob. It’s a “hate piece.”

  • Roberto

    It’s an op-ed piece. So why is Getreligion surprised that Prof. Bloom expressed his opinion, even if Getreligion doesn’t like it.

    I’ve asked the same question in another context. Bloom’s piece may be stupid and mean-spirited but it’s just an opinion piece.

    At the risk of being “disliked” into oblivion, GetReligion is at its best when it avoids being just another note in the conservative chorus over “media bias.” When it points out the unspoken assumptions and connotative language used in ostensibly straight reporting, GR performs an invaluable service. When it complains about someone saying hurtful things about Christians, never mind conservatives more generally or in this case, Iowans quaIowans, not so much.

  • Roberto

    I think GetReligion’s interest is in the second half of the post – how the paper handled the multiple factual errors in an op-ed piece written by a guy who teaches aspiring journalism their craft.

    I wouldn’t presume to speak for Mr. Smietana and I say this with the utmost respect for you and Mrs. Hemmingway but that assertion is belied by this

    But it’s hard to do that when, well, when major outlets such as The Atlantic see nothing wrong — and a whole lot right — with publishing rot such as this.

    You don’t have to be terminally-skeptical to suspect that even if Bloom hadn’t made the factual error or if the Atlantic had handled the correction better, that it would still be regarded as “rot.”

  • sari

    Roberto,
    As a Jew, I found Bloom’s piece nasty and well beyond the parameters of even marginally good taste. No one–no one, would have tolerated similar comments addressed to a different group, say African-Americans in the rural south or Latin-Americans in Miami. Commentators and special interest groups would have fallen over each other to criticize him.

    Blatant bigotry should never be published, even as an Op-Ed.

  • Julia

    OK It’s an op-ed piece, but Columbia Journalism Review jumped on it and this from the AP:

    The response has been bipartisan and overwhelming. “Professor Bloom is engaging here in just a remarkable level of stereotyping. He should know better,’’ said Sue Dvorsky, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Iowa. “He’s done two great books about life in Iowa. This commentary is not worthy of him.’’

    “The saddest part of all of this is he’s a journalism professor for crying out loud!’’ added Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican. “This is a condescending piece that I’m ashamed to say was funded by my constituents’ tax dollars.’’

    Should a journalism professor be modelling this kind of work for his students? It was my working newsman-brother with an MA from the Mizzou J school who called it my attention.

  • Joe Delahunt

    I read Iowahawk’s send up of Bloom before Bloom above. Iowahawk is so pitch perfect that when I started reading Bloom here I thought it was Iowahawk and that I had read already read it.

  • Jerry

    But elsewhere in its response to critics, the magazine has broken one of journalism’s golden rules: errors should be corrected forthrightly, and with as much fanfare as the original mistake was made.

    Bob, good point. I had not realized that this was an op-ed piece because I was reading my way through all the comments first.

    So Mollie should and presumably will forthrightly correct that error with as much fanfare as the original.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Roberto:

    I wouldn’t presume to speak for Mr. Smietana and I say this with the utmost respect for you and Mrs. Hemmingway but that assertion is belied by this

    But it’s hard to do that when, well, when major outlets such as The Atlantic see nothing wrong — and a whole lot right — with publishing rot such as this.

    You don’t have to be terminally-skeptical to suspect that even if Bloom hadn’t made the factual error or if the Atlantic had handled the correction better, that it would still be regarded as “rot.”

    Good call.

    I think I’ve always understood the GetReligionastas as wearing their point of view on the subject matter up front, but that opinion isn’t what the post is about, nor the thing that makes it valid GetReligion territory. That’s always the journalistic issue involved.

    Different posters vary in where they fit in the spectrum of ‘just comment on the journalism’ through to ‘get in some free ‘conservative’ kicks along the way’, but even with those down the latter camp, it’s little more than adding color. If they could find a couple of good, more liberal or progressive, journalist types who could balance that, it might seem a bit less egregious.

    So, I can see why some posts are interpreted by some people as ‘hit pieces’ thinly disguised as journalism analysis, but I think that’s a misintpretation. Mollie is being clear that she thinks the piece is simply awful even as an op-ed – a view that is widely held, and so hardly a ‘conservative’ opinion. But, as I read it, she’s also (and primarily) trying to focus on the journalism issues involved in the errors of fact and how they were dealt with. The latter is the point, the former is ‘color’.

    However, I would agree that many commentators then fix on the subject matter, rather than the journalism, for their responses.

  • Julia

    Seems to me the op-ed piece is thinly disguised as being an essay about why Iowa should not be the first take on Presidential candidates, when actually it’s a professor’s rant about why he hates the state in which he has been stuck for 20 years.

    Professor Bloom never really gets around to analysis – just pointing out how awfully dumb he perceives the people in Iowa to be. There is no comparison and contrast with other states that might better serve the purpose.

  • Jack Jones

    Bloom obviously hates Iowa and yet has lived there for 20 years. One can assume that he has been unable in 20 years to find himself another teaching job at one of the 3,000 other colleges and universities in the United States. This does tell us a whole lot about Prof. Bloom.

    The Atlantic website has a long appendix to the Bloom article with all kinds of corrections of basic facts that Bloom got wrong in his original article. Reading all those corrections, it becomes clear that if Bloom spends another 20 years looking for another job as a professor of journalism, he is going to continue to be unsuccessful.

  • Mollie

    I’m surprised that longtime readers of GetReligion such as Bob Smietana don’t know that we have never limited our analysis to news articles in newspapers. We have always included magazine essays, such as the one I looked at above.

    In fact, The Atlantic alone has easily had 100s of stories we’ve looked at over the years since 2004. The Atlantic has probably received most of our favorable commentary on magazine coverage. Particularly in the early years when they were more focused on good religion coverage. Heck, I think tmatt spent most of 2006 telling readers to read an essay they had on tribalism. A snippet from one of his posts:

    The Atlantic Monthly is a wonderful magazine and is must reading for anyone interested in religion and public life. But some of those articles are just so long, too long even, when it comes time to reading them on a computer screen. So if you are not a subscriber, I urge you — the timing is perfect — to find a subscriber and urge them to give you that copy of the January-February issue that they were just about to pitch into the recycle bin. It’s the one with Pope Benedict XVI on the cover (more on that in a moment).

    There is a very important article in this issue entitled “Tribal Relations” by Steven Waldman, the CEO over at Beliefnet, and John C. Green, the University of Akron professor who is one of America’s most quoted experts on political numbers. It is part of a package — look for the “Values Racket” headline — that tries to carve up all kinds of Culture War and Red vs. Blue political myths and actually, for me, ends up making the opposite case, underlining the fact that moral and cultural issues are at the heart of American politics these days.

    What’s more, we have a contributor, Doug LeBlanc, who during his active time with us focused almost exclusively on magazine writing such as the essay I looked at above.

    The very first line that tmatt wrote about The Atlantic back in February of 2004 was: “The cover of The Atlantic has always been a prime piece of real estate in the journalism of ideas.”

    We normally don’t call magazine essays op-eds but virtually all magazine pieces have viewpoint and we have never refrained from looking at them because of that.

    Whether they’re in the New York Times Sunday magazine, The New Yorker, Harpers, The Economist or Rolling Stone — all of which encourage the use of viewpoint — we will look at these pieces if they do a poor job of discussing religion.

    It didn’t really occur to me that anyone familiar with GetReligion would think anything other than that this might be one of the more classic examples of a GetReligion article of focus.

    And yes, I guess I should also point out that this post looked at an Associated Press piece that ran in the New York Times and Boston Globe, among other places, and the fallout among media analysis publications such as Columbia Journalism Review.

    Iowans of all stripes took offense to this piece. Probably libertarians, which is my personal tribe, took the least hit from this piece or had the least interest in it. That doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it as shoddy journalism from a journalism professor. You certainly don’t need to be conservative to find this article rubbish. Many, many other non-conservatives certainly did.

    As such, I must admit being somewhat intrigued or confused (possibly amused) by the line of criticism that GetReligion shouldn’t have looked at this.

    So no, Jerry, I will not be “forthrightly correcting that error with as much fanfare as the original.”

    In fact, if anything this makes me realize that we need to do much more coverage of magazine articles. They take longer to do (and you see how long it took me to get around to doing this — under the gun), but they are important.

    So in that respect, thanks to those of you for giving us the opportunity to remind folks that magazines are part of the media, too, and we need to focus on them more.

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Mollie:

    There’s a difference between magazine feature stories and magazine op-ed essays.

    Steven Waldman’s piece on tribalism is a reported feature story. Bloom’s piece is an op-ed essay. Not one that’s friendly to religious conservatives and not very complementary to the state of Iowa but an op-ed piece the same.

    However, Bloom – who wrote a fabulous book called Postville about the troubles of the meatpacking industry in that Iowa City, has been very forthright in saying he doesn’t loathe Iowa, the state he’s lived in for 20 years. That would have been worth mentioning in the blog post.

    Getreligion used to be interested in journalism. Now it’s mostly whining about how mean the mainstream media is to conservatives.

    Which makes me an ex-longtime reader.

  • Chris

    Mr. Bloom said a lot of things calculated to irritate rural Iowans, but I notice he did not have the temerity to attach disparaging adjectives to the “green jello with pears” mold and red velvet cake. There are a lot of clandestine green jello lovers. I suspect he may (Oh the shame!) be one.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BOB:

    GetReligion has ALWAYS, since day one, written about op-eds and other editorial content on subjects directly linked to religion in the news and in news coverage.

    This article fit that description and the raging debate about the errors and corrections certainly proves the point.

    By all means, please send us URLs about MAINSTREAM publications that public similar articles about religion and public life — left, right or center.

    And please, please, please send in examples of poor and inaccurate coverage of the religious left. As you know, we have long urged more press coverage of religion trends on the cultural and doctrinal left.

    GetReligion continues to argue that religious believers or all stripes deserve coverage in which their voices are accurately reported — even in debates in which people fiercely disagree with one another.

  • Jeffrey

    But Bob’s point is that GR has become just another conservative website complaining about “hate” against conservatives and Christians and only marginally about journalism or with journalism as window-dressing to forward that agenda. It wasn’t always that way, but now it is largely inidistinguishable from other conservative “media criticism” outlets.

  • Martha

    Bob, do you really think “The Atlantic” or any other publication would run an op-ed piece by a writer talking about how he’s lived twenty years in Harlem or inner-city Chicago or South Los Angeles back when it was still South Central, and it’s filled with nothing but “waste-toids” and meth addicts and crazy relgious nuts and the elderly just hanging on before death takes them mercifully away from it all? Explaining how the denizens “gulp down” a vindaloo or that “mole” is a sauce in local cuisine and not the digging mammal?

    The piece struck me as Professor Bloom looking to make a splash and get publicity for himself, perhaps for a career move or in hopes of a publishing deal (he’s written plays and some non-fiction already). I doubt, however, he would get away with this “With Rod and Gun in Darkest Africa” style if he were indeed writing about Africa or one of the ethnically-mixed locales he seems to be pining for.

  • sari

    Bob, You may have found Postville fabulous, a good example of unbiased investigative reporting. I, who am more aware of the industry and the conflicts between secular and religious Jews that led to the investigation, did not. Lots of back story missing from the book. Bloom was arrogant in his assumptions then; his contempt for the religious came through loud and clear, just as it did in today’s piece.

    Jeffrey said: “But Bob’s point is that GR has become just another conservative website complaining about “hate” against conservatives and Christians and only marginally about journalism or with journalism as window-dressing to forward that agenda. It wasn’t always that way, but now it is largely inidistinguishable from other conservative “media criticism” outlets.”

    I’ve not been here long enough to be considered a longtime reader, but it seems like it’s hit or miss. Some topics clearly skew in one direction only and certain contributors seem objective than others. Likewise, pinching seems to follow no pattern and often fails to adhere to the stated guidelines.

    Otoh, this is a valuable forum which exposes readers to alternative viewpoints they might not encounter elsewhere. I have learned a lot, for instance, about how Mormons perceive themselves and are perceived by others, and about how Christian denominations differ from one another. And people here are overwhelmingly courteous, which facilitates the exchange of ideas.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JEFFREY:

    The key is a search for errors of fact, balance and fairness.

    If you dispute the accuracy of a post, please hit us with URLs that show the facts of the analysis are wrong.

    And please send URLs of mainstream coverage that make similar errors about the religious left. Please do so. I hunt for them, too. You will see some — as GetReligion has often pointed out — about alternative religions. You will also see stories on the religious left that the media simply MISS. Send URLs in for those, too.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jeffrey,

    I don’t have a record of you having submitted us any stories that were biased against religious liberals. Please do send us any stories that you have a problem with in the future.

    Even though I’m libertarian, I’ve only been able to write about media coverage of religion and libertarianism very few times here because it’s just not covered (much less covered poorly) that often. I’ve written critiques that have pleased the Obama camp and critiques that have pleased the Bachmann camp. I don’t support either of those candidates, but that’s not what our job is here. It’s to look at journalism that addresses religion news.

    We tend to write about stories such as the one featured above rather than its liberal inverse because — and I think we all know this is true — the Atlantic would never publish the ideological inverse of this piece. Neither would any other major magazine. But if they did, we’d pounce on it, too.

    But seriously, if you think there are stories that are getting missed, by all means send them in. We receive quite a few story suggestions each day and there’s no reason to not join in the fun, particularly if you’re going to be critical of our story selection.

  • Pamela Zohar

    I am another one who doesn’t quite ‘get’ why that article garnered GetReligion attention.

    It may be rude, crude, annoying and objectionable, but it isn’t ‘news’ and it isn’t ‘media’ – it’s one guy with his own personal opinion. It’s also pretty funny(if not exactly polite), which I think was his goal in writing it –

    It’s ‘Opinion’, not news. Would you object to a news article which quoted someone correctly, although you disagreed with what the person said?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Pamela Zohar,

    Yes, well, as I wrote above:

    “Even journalism professors are allowed to have opinions about how much they hate themselves or other people. I’m pretty curmudgeonly myself, to be honest. But they should probably be careful about the facts.”

    Which is why the post focused on the factual problems of the essay and the media coverage those factual problems netted.

  • John M.

    IMHO, the Atlantic went way downhill after Michael Kelly died in Iraq in ’03.

    -John

  • carl jacobs

    Mollie

    Even journalism professors are allowed to have opinions about how much they hate themselves or other people

    You can have all the opinions you want, but if you desire to stay employed, you might want to keep some of those opinions to yourself. It absolutely astonishes me how many people have said “This is only an Op-Ed piece. It says nothing about journalism.” Does it really say nothing? Write a piece like this about an officially protected minority group and you will find your career officially terminated. Anybody remember Don Imus?

    The cynical side of me says that the “It’s only an Op-Ed piece” line is a safe encoded way of saying “Most of what he said is true even if he made a lot of mistakes saying it.” Should I believe that many journalists just aren’t that offended because way down deep they agree with him? Strange. That seems to me a significant journalistic issue that is more important than who did or didn’t check facts.

    carl

  • Jeffrey

    Sending links to stories only to have people on the religious left ridiculed and mocked seems to be a futile effort. The problem isn’t just story selection, but the ideological filter those stories are placed in. Why subject stories about Episcopalians and UUs and others to the GR treatment given the hostility that greets the mere mention of those groups generally.

    I don’t bother to send links because history suggests the problem is bias and ideological focus, not story selection. I have no reason to believe the stories won’t just be turned into an opportunity to suggest traditionalists are
    being mistreated. The problem is much deeper than just story selection if you aren’t willing to acknowledge and own your biases, something you ask the MSM to do all the time.

  • Jacob

    It’s funny how he says that the Gazette was teaching his students bad journalism, when clearly he’s giving them a much stronger example of corruptness in journalism.

    The Columbia Review is an absolute joke. They have to call putting a bible verse on a paper journalistically improper? Why? Did the verse morph into a print virus and somehow corrupt the truth of the other stories printed? But it’s not journalistically improper to print ten thousand priest sex abuse stories and then skip all the Jewish, Muslim and secular sex scandals?
    It’s not journalistically improper to pretend that you’re the objective arbiter of journalism and then skip criticizing any media outlet where your leftists friends rule the headlines?
    Where is the Review’s outrage over the hundreds of journalistically improper things the NYT and Wash Po do every day?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jeffrey writes:

    Sending links to stories only to have people on the religious left ridiculed and mocked seems to be a futile effort. The problem isn’t just story selection, but the ideological filter those stories are placed in. Why subject stories about Episcopalians and UUs and others to the GR treatment given the hostility that greets the mere mention of those groups generally.

    I don’t bother to send links because history suggests the problem is bias and ideological focus, not story selection. I have no reason to believe the stories won’t just be turned into an opportunity to suggest traditionalists are
    being mistreated. The problem is much deeper than just story selection if you aren’t willing to acknowledge and own your biases, something you ask the MSM to do all the time.

    I know it’s hard to find stories, but this is really not a good excuse. It’s kind of like telling a companion that you hate their restaurant suggestions and that you refuse to offer any others because you just know, based on their choices, that they wouldn’t be well received. I mean, how far does that get you in terms of a healthy relationship? Answer: not far.

    Also, you began commenting on our site around mid-August — and have been one of our most faithful commenters since then. Some of those comments have been quite good, I should add. But you keep referring to the “history” of the site and I’m not sure less than five months is really ample here.

    Again, I know it’s easier to complain than put in the hard work of finding stories that need analysis. But I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised.

    And in the future, if you could please substantiate — with links — your claims and complaints, that would be helpful, too. Believe me, I know that’s hard work, too, since I have to do it every day/week/month/year with my posts. But it really helps for people to know precisely what you’re talking about or railing against.

  • Jeffrey

    I’ve been reading GR for a number of years, I’ve only recently started commenting. And there are archives and your links to past posts.

    Again, sending you links isn’t going to help since the filter and script is the same. Just as the NYT has a a specific viewpoint and filter, so does GR. So a story about Episcopalians, for instance, will still be greeted with snarky comments about liturgical dancing and gays and general nastiness and then plunge into another rehashing if how small they are and how they get too much attention. So why bother.

    Bob’s complaint that GR is no different from other conservative websites and the drumbeat of victim hood underscores the problem. All the links in the world aren’t going to change the ideological filters and blinders of the bloggers.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jeffrey,

    I’ll ask one more time: please substantiate your claims with links.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JOHN M:

    I, too, mourn for Michael Kelly — one of the most important editors who ever ran a magazine. He was incredibly gifted at seeing the news implications of religion trends.

    Remember this one?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/10/the-next-christianity/2591/

    This is why seeing damaged goods such as this article in The Atlantic matters; this was a controversy with some substance.

  • John M.

    Jeffrey,

    I’ve seen Tmatt complain more than once in these pages that the religious left gets portrayed largely in cardboard political caricatures, when they get portrayed at all. It’s not something I’d thought about, but he’s absolutely right.

    -John


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