Today marks the second anniversary of NBC’s David Bloom’s last ride in the “Bloom-mobile”. Embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, David gave millions of people around the world a glimpse of the frontlines, first hand as American troops advanced on Baghdad.
During the run-up to the war, David fought with NBC news and those at the Pentagon to provide a different view of our troops in action, not your standard embed stuff. He had a vision to put all that modern technology muster into telling the story of men and women on the ground, the boots. And for that brief period, he was providing some of the most visually spectacular and personal stories that have emerged from US coverage in Iraq. After his death, NBC News president Neal Shapiro compared Bloom’s reports on the daily lives of soldiers to those of Ernie Pyle from the foxholes of the second world war. Pretty high praise.
In his eulogy, Tom Brokaw said: “Just as Edward R. Murrow transformed radio reporting during World War II by putting microphones at street level, so Americans could hear the unhurried steps of Londoners as they walked calmly into a tube station during a bombing raid, our David transformed TV reporting by taking you inside an armored division while it swept across the desert.”
I saw somewhere recently that there are some 45,000+ registered users on dKos and I sense that none of us are ambivalent about Iraq. David Bloom’s story, however, is not about how we feel about our presence in Iraq or even about news coverage in Iraq, but about something we feel equally strong about: Investigative Journalism and the sad state of the media.
Did I know David Bloom? I didn’t. But, I worked for 16 years as an engineer in the NBC family of affiliates, have been a news junkie since I was six-years old and I was totally inconsolable when I heard the news of his tragic passing two years ago today.
His is a story that needs telling…we need to remember what great journalism can offer.
David Bloom is probably best known for the “Bloom-mobile” or perhaps for his easy charm and boyish good looks, as the anchor of Weekend Today. But, the media watcher in me is compelled to memorialize and remember, David Bloom, Investigative Journalist.
He started out in small markets in Kansas and Wisconsin before joining NBC’s Miami O&O WTVJ in 1989. He wasn’t afraid of knocking heads and stepping on toes. He won a regional news Emmy in 1991 for his hardnosed reporting of the Florida connections (i.e. the actual arms shipments) involved in the Reagan/Bush administration’s arms-to-Iraq scandal.
He contributed to NBC Nightly News and Today Show coverage of many of that times top stories: U.S. military buildup off Haiti; police investigation and capture of a Florida serial killer for “Dateline NBC”; reported from Cuba during “Today’s” trip to that country in 1991; the Somali famine; the ATF siege of Branch Dividians in Waco, Texas; the escape of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar
He knew a good visual and how to evoke the personal edge to a story, too. During Hurricane Andrew, he was one of the first to see the devastation of Homestead. It was the middle of the night, just him and a cameraman and he couldn’t really tell just how bad it was, but he felt it. He made the call requesting that TVJ’s helicopter be onsite at dawn, and a waking nation saw the aftermath of nature’s awesome fury via uplink to the Today Show.
Later in the day, while reporting live on the effects of the storm, Bloom confronted a looter with boxes in his arms. “How can you take those things from somebody else?” he asked, shaming the man into putting the goods back. A live, on-air display of integrity and indignation that gives me goosebumps everytime I think of it. David Bloom’s coverage of Hurricane Andrew won both Peabody and Edward R Murrow awards.
The Peobody and Murrow awards vaulted Bloom first to NBC Chicago and then to Los Angeles. He was the lead NBC reporter during the OJ Simpson trial and managed to keep his head above water in that circus environment. Focusing on the facts in evidence and the procedural tactics of the trial, his coverage didn’t lapse into the cult of personality that seemed to dominate the coverage. He was also among the first to expose the darker side of Mark Furman.
While on duty in LA, he also covered the Unabomber, The Freedman standoff and the war in Bosnia. Then, it was off to cover Bob Dole’s Presidential Campaign. I often wondered how hard it must have been to be around Bob and his 3rd person talking self.
Bloom was NBC News’ White house Correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Covering the White House beat during one of the busiest news cycles, Bloom reported on the Maryland Peace Summit with Yassir Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu, on Operation Desert Fox and the NATO bombings in Kosovo. He reported extensively on the impeachment of President Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal for Nightly News, Today, MSNBC and CNBC. Again, David Bloom rose above the ranks of the other correspondents and did not fall into the tabloid style sexual witch hunt that the affair became.
He joined Weekend Today in March of 2000 as co-host with Soledad O’Brien. They were a real joy to watch and David’s down-to-earth, personal approach to even the fluffiest stories made them palatable. Meanwhile, he continued to press the network for reporting assignments and true to form carrying on with the dogged persistence that had marked his field work.
His post-911 reporting of personal stories of the WTC are too difficult for me to remember clearly, but again, he stood head and shoulders above most of his peers.
Which brings us back to today and more painful memories. I was rereading coverage from April 2003 and there are some pretty amazing stories. One of the oddest juxtapositions was from another reporter embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, Frederik Balfour of BusinessWeek in his article: WAR IN IRAQ — REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK
Five short lines to summarize the last day of a man who was, by all measures, in the prime of life.
…As I write this, Bloom’s body is still in Iraq. Though we were told a helicopter was supposed to evacuate him in the early morning, 18 hours later none has come. It has been a frustrating wait. The mortuary affairs team of six young men and women live and work in one large tent apart from the rest of the soldiers in the bleakest part of the desert for miles around. Their radio battery is shot and can’t be recharged, cutting them off further from the main body of the Army.
Not for the first time, I despair at the Army’s lack of coordination even as our division penetrates the very heart of Baghdad. I hope David Bloom gets home soon.
Balfour’s article is strong and also tells the story of the Army’s mortuary affairs unit. I encourage you to read the entirety. This is one of the positives that arose from Bloom’s death…I never would have heard the story of Sergeant Agnes Poston of the MAU.
Soon it was revealed that Bloom had died of PE…pulmonary embolism as a result of deep vein thrombosis. It was the long hours he spent cramped in the Army vehicle that caused his death.
Last month, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announced passage of a Senate resolution declaring March Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month. David Bloom’s widow, Melanie is now the Chairman of the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis. DVT affects up to 2 million Americans per year and PE causes up to 200,000 U.S. deaths annually — more than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Some call it the “economy class syndrome” in reference to the short legroom on airliners.
With March declared Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, Melanie Bloom made the talk show rounds promoting Prevent DVT. It also gave her a very public opportunity to speak about David, his death and the love of his family:
Through all of this, David called home nearly every day via satellite phone. One such call came a few days before his death. He was speaking in a whisper. He said his unit had reached the outskirts of Baghdad and he was sleeping outside atop the fender of the M-88 tank he had been riding. “We have to be quiet,” he said. “We can’t have lights or any noise because of the possibility of ambush.” I said, “David, why are you sleeping outside? Get back into the tank where it’s safe!” But he said he had been confined too long inside too small a space. His legs had been cramping and he couldn’t bear another night with his knees tucked to his chin. He went on to tell me about the stars over Baghdad as he lay there, gazing into a cold, desert night sky. As I look back now, I wish I had recognized the most dangerous warning sign of all — those whispered complaints of leg cramps.
BLOOM: You know, he thought it was so important to tell the soldiers’ story, to bring the true story of war home to the American people from the front line as it happened, you know, and cover it in sort of a technologically innovative way, which he did with this “Bloom-mobile.” And he really had a vision of how this war could and should be covered, and he thought it was important to sort of be the voice of the soldier.
KING: It was an incredible time for you, was it not, to hear of this, of this death? Did the Army handle it well? Did NBC handle it well?
BLOOM: Absolutely. Amazingly well. I mean, the military family really embraced us. I mean, they came to the house. A lot of the military wives came to David’s funeral, you know, and they would say to me, We would watch his newscast to see that the 3rd ID was OK. If we saw David and — you know, we knew everything was OK. And the military family really, really embraced us as one of their own. And NBC was great. I mean, they are like an extended family…
BLOOM: In one of the many e-mails home from the desert, in response to an e-mail from his daughters, David wrote, “We all have to make sacrifices, even you. Your sacrifice is that your dad is not around. But just remember, sweethearts, there are lots of other boys and girls whose mommies and daddies are over here, getting ready to fight for their country, risking their lives because that is their job. So when you’re missing me, as I am missing you, remember to say a prayer for all those other boys and girls who are missing their mommies and daddies, too. And yes, my dear, sweet girls, when I’m a little bit scared, I promise you I will remember you and your mom, and I will know in my heart just how much you love me. To the moon and back, right? Love, Daddy.”
KING: Tell me about this e-mail.
BLOOM: Well, we’re very blessed in that we have communications from David from the desert. And he e-mailed as much as he could, and our girls would e-mail David, as well, and — but our 3-year-old couldn’t type, so she would dictate to me and I would type her words and then shoot it off to Dave, so he could…
KING: Was this the last thing she sent to him?
BLOOM: This is the last e-mail that she sent him directly and…
KING: This is the 3-year-old dictating this.
BLOOM: She was 3 at the time, dictating, and stream of consciousness. I won’t go through all of the, Do you like red balloons, and things like that. But at the very end of her e-mail, she wrote, “Bye, and I love you and I hope you’ll be back. And I hope you love your computer, and I hope you love me, and I hope you love the beautiful candle. And I hope you will not die. Love, Ava (ph).”
And when she dictated that to me, my hands literally froze over the keys. I don’t know where that last line came from.
KING: Did you ask her?
BLOOM: No, I didn’t. I actually debated whether to even type that on and send it off because I knew Dave — you know, that would be hard to read from his little girl. But I also thought it was important for him to know what — you know, what effect this was having at home and on his children and what her little fears were. And you know…
KING: Can we have David’s last e-mail?
BLOOM: And then David responded back to — well, his last e-mail directly to Ava in response to that. And he writes, “Oh, my dear, sweet Ava. My heart just aches and tears well up in my eyes when I think about you worrying about me. I’m safe, my little princess, and I will be back home to love and care for you, to read you stories at night and make you breakfast in the morning, to walk you with in the woods and to swing and slide with you on the jungle gym in the back yard. I don’t know yet when I’m coming home, Ava. I love you all the way to the moon and back. And I can’t wait for us to hug each other and squeeze each other tight and hold onto each other forever. All my love, Daddy.”
And this is bittersweet. This was written four days before his death.
Now, I am no fan of Larry King in general, but when I heard Melanie Bloom was going to be on, I watched and then waited for the transcript.
I’ve thought a lot about the path of least resistance that our media is taking with regard to the Administration and the war in Iraq. It has resulted in copious amounts of head and fist-shaking on my part. But I can’t help but think if David was around, there’d be a few more feet held to the fire.
Please join me today in a sending kind thought out to David and his family.