Iowans outraged over article critical of rural state

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2011 6:18 PM
Iowans outraged over article critical of rural state

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Iowa professor said he stands by an article about the Midwestern state that says rural towns are populated with "waste-toids" and "meth addicts," and has sparked outrage from residents.

University of Iowa Journalism Professor Stephen Bloom's article was published Friday on the website of The Atlantic magazine, some three weeks before Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses on January 3.

"Considering the state's enormous political significance, I thought this would be a good time to explain ... what Iowa is," Bloom, who has lived in the state for 20 years, wrote in the 5,600-word piece.

The picture the 60-year-old, New Jersey native painted is not pretty. Iowa's vast rural core, he says, is inhabited by "the elderly waiting to die, those too timid ... 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.'"

And that is just the warm up. Bloom goes on to argue that Wal-Mart has destroyed Iowa's retail-trade sector, that limited economic opportunities sparked an exodus of educated young people and that many powerful businesses in the state use undocumented immigrant workers to drive down labor costs and break the law.

"In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it," Bloom said.

"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."

The reaction among Iowans, who take pride in the outsize role their state plays in the presidential picking process, has been outrage.

Charles Betts, the executive director of the chamber of commerce in Keokuk, Iowa -- a once bustling city of 11,500 on the Mississippi River that Bloom calls "a depressed, crime-infested slum town," -- said Bloom exaggerated the town's problems.

In an e-mail to Reuters, Bloom said he has received "hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, calling me all sorts of hateful things."

"The easiest response to my article is to condemn me and the issues I raise," he said.

"That's a tried-and-true tactic. Kill the messenger, ignore the message. That's safe and convenient. But it doesn't get at some of the raw, undeniable questions this story poses."

(Editing by Greg McCune)