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NBC’s David Bloom died in Iraq Sunday from what appears to be a pulmonary embolism.
The 39-year-old reporter and anchor of the weekend “Today” show was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division outside Baghdad. A husband and father of three, Bloom was traveling with troops about 25 miles south of Baghdad when he suddenly collapsed.
Business Week‘s Frederik Balfour was in the medical tent when Bloom was brought in, and reports that, “It may have been the long hours he spent cramped in the Army vehicle that caused his death. Three days ago, Bloom had complained of cramps behind his knee. Like most of us journalists ‘embedded’ in the Army, he had endured days and nights of working, eating, and sleeping in our vehicles as convoys snaked their way toward Baghdad. He consulted military doctors and described his symptoms over the phone to overseas physicians. They suspected DVT, or deep veinous thrombosis, and advised him to seek proper medical attention. He ignored their advice, swallowed some aspirins, and kept on working.” (See “David Bloom’s Last Ride” for more)
According to Bill Wheatley, Vice President of NBC News, two of the four-person Bloom unit is remaining with the 3rd Infantry Division. Bloom’s producer is accompanying his body as it is taken to Kuwait, while the cameraman and technician remain embedded.
They felt strongly that they should continue, and that Bloom would want that, Wheatley said.
“This group did a lot of the design work on the Bloom vehicle, working with the manufacturers,” Wheatley said. “David wanted to make sure it would be permitted, so he made several trips in previous weeks to talk with command officers.”
“No one’s ever done this before,” Wheatley said, and “it meant a lot to Bloom’s team that the company supported it.”
Wheatley said that NBC was talking to the other embedded crews about Bloom’s death, and wanted them to hear it from the network before hearing it somewhere else. “They’re all very tired — they’re getting very little sleep — and they’re all saddened,” he said.
Still, everyone understands the danger is part of the territory.
“This is a war, and there’s a lot of surprise gunfire. There’ve been errant bombs. There’s been heavy fighting. Of course, we’re concerned.”
At the same time, there is a commitment to keeping the viewers informed.
“People relate to people, and certainly the viewers came to know who David Bloom was … and how hard he was working to keep them informed,” Wheatley said. “It was a personalized presentation, as much of TV news is.”
NBC received many e-mails from viewers Sunday morning about Bloom’s death.
“His enthusiasm was apparent. If just the e-mails I’ve received are any indication, people reacted to him,” said Allison Gollust, VP of News Media Relations for NBC. Gollust says the network is collecting the notes and condolences for Bloom’s family.
Barbara Cochran, RTNDA President, knows people will undoubtedly remember the stories Bloom told, almost improvisationally, live from Iraq, a reporting style that was like a conversation with viewers.
“He was there as your surrogate. It goes back to the old days of Edward R. Murrow, and ‘You Are There,’” Cochran said.
Wheatley: “A lot of people were watching his progress and were following developments through his eyes.” Bob Kealing, a reporter at Orlando’s WESH who worked with Bloom 15 years ago in Wichita, Kansas, agrees.
“I think America was only just getting to know David Bloom’s extraordinary talent. His desire to bring home the war like no other correspondent resulted in that ‘Iraq War meets Mad Max’ type of compelling reportage only David was providing. When there is someone who is willing to go to such an extreme to be the best and bring the story home to viewers, we all benefit. And when a star burning that brightly is suddenly extinguished, the loss is incalculable,” Kealing said.
Bloom’s NBC colleagues are mourning the loss.
“Katie and Matt came in to join Soledad O’Brien, his anchoring partner, this morning, and of course Tim Russert as well,” Gollust said.
“You couldn’t keep him away from a story,” said Russert. “Whenever something was breaking, he wanted to be there.” (Watch video of ”Today” show colleagues reflecting on Bloom)
“David was a person who combined an extraordinary amount of talent with boundless energy and that was quite a combination. He liked nothing better than to be out front on a big story and often was, never more so than the last few weeks,” said Wheatley.
Bob Dotson, NBC National Correspondent for the “Today” show, met Bloom while he was working for Miami’s WTVJ, and says it was clear early on that Bloom was special.
Dotston credits Bloom’s talent, craft and dogged determination for his success.
“God didn’t tap him on the shoulder and make him the journalist he was,” Dotson said. ”He learned his craft, and he practiced it.”
Dotson said Bloom connected so well with viewers because he learned something very rare in TV journalism: how to talk “people talk.”
Dotson: “He could show you things you might miss even standing next to him.”“He put the viewer on his knee and said, ‘This is what’s happening,’” Dotson said. “He had that ‘Hey, Martha’ ability.”
Before his live shots, Bloom would walk around and play all the parts in his story, Dotson recalled.
Bloom took the writing very seriously. He was attentive to details and would ask out loud – to himself and to others – ”How does it sound to the ear? How do you write pictures in your head first?”
“He never put the pencil down until he absolutely had to,” Dotson said. He would “polish, polish, polish.”
Bloom would read Dotson’s copy and ask, “Why did you put this sentence here? Why does this work?”
Bloom’s gift was, in part, his perception, Dotson said.
“He could show you things you might miss even standing next to him. That was his mission, and it all came together in his last and greatest stories.”
“I will be inspired by David Bloom to be a harder worker, a better storyteller, to take the job, but not myself, too seriously,” Kealing said.
Cochran hopes Bloom’s legacy is “a reminder to the public that journalists do a lot of brave things. They’re not doing it for the money or the glamour, but for a purpose they really believe in: to give people in a democracy the information they need to govern themselves.”
“The sky was the limit for him,” Dotson said, and “he went to the sky real fast.”
On Covering War