Guest Editorial

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

A strong voice silenced

When I turned on the news, instead of getting the final score of the Texas-Syracuse game, as I wanted, I was greeted by news that NBC correspondent and Weekend Today anchor David Bloom died while on assignment in Iraq.

An "embedded" journalist, Bloom had been with the Army's 3rd Infantry as it raced through the desert toward Baghdad.

Bloom didn't die in a gunfight with the enemy, or in a plane crash or another war-related tragedy. He died of a pulmonary embolism, a blockage of the blood vessels in the lungs.

It could have happened on a golf course, on the news set or in his home, with his wife and three young daughters.

Instead, it happened during a war. He was 39.

The death of Bloom, the sixth journalist to have died in Iraq since the war began, struck pretty deeply.

As a newspaper journalist, I generally have little time for the "scud studs" and "desert foxes" who flicker across the television screens during time of conflict.

"Talking heads" I call them, folks who mouth the words written by less pretty, less articulate journalists behind the scenes.

There was more to Bloom than that, I sensed.

It's ironic, but last week local Republican leader George Moriarty and I were having a discussion about the media coverage of the war around the table prior to our Rotary meeting, specifically the actions of Peter Arnett and Geraldo Rivera, who had both been canned for blunders of monumental idiocy.

The gist of my argument was that while the government has touted "embedded" journalists as a way for the citizens back home to get news from the battlefield, it wasn't all good. By in effect being responsible for the well-being of the journalists and deciding where they went and what they saw, the military was doing its own PR (or propaganda as the case may be). Those journalists, for the most part, became cheerleaders for the units and battalions they were embedded with.

The military was, as they did in the first Gulf War, "managing" the news.

I support the war effort and the young men and women who have put themselves in harm's way in order to protect those of us back home and who are risking their lives in order to liberate the Iraqi people.

But I don't always believe everything I hear. Call it journalistic skepticism, too much reading about the wars of the past, or a knowledge that we really shouldn't for issues of national security hear everything that happens in time of war.

However, in order to get a more complete picture of the war, I argued, it was important to be an informed consumer, to get the news from a wide array of sources - print, radio, and television - and to bear in mind the close relationship between the embedded reporters and the military.

I did note a couple of reporters who seemed to be an exception to that rule, and one of them was Bloom.

Sure, his hair mussed about as well as any of them. Sure, he had the requisite battle vest and sometimes breathless tone about him as he reported from the back of a specially-equipped military transport. In fact, Time magazine last week named him one of four journalists destined to trudge in the footsteps of Arthur Kent, the first Gulf War's original "scud stud."

But there was something genuine, honest and real about Bloom that seemed to transcend the typical embed reports.

When he was on the air, I felt like I was getting the real story.

Perhaps it was his years of experience. Bloom had covered Hurricane Andrew, the O.J. Simpson trial and the Unibomber. He covered the Somali famine, the Midwest floods, the ATF siege of Branch Dividians in Waco, Texas, the escape of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the coup in Haiti.

Perhaps it was the fact that he was a Midwesterner, through and through. A native of Edina, Minn., his wide-open face and friendly manner made you comfortable with him instantly on air.

Perhaps it was because he brought such passion and empathy to the job. He loved what he did and it showed. He made us care because he cared so deeply.

Perhaps it was the fact that he was just a few months younger than I. Your own mortality stares you in me face when someone you can relate to, who has many of the same interests and passions, goes so soon.

There are a lot of other journalists in harm's way in Iraq, 600 of them, including Kirstin Schamberg, an Everly native reporting for the Chicago Tribune.

The news will continue. But one strong voice has been silenced.