“Hey, buddy.” That was David Bloom’s all-purpose greeting for anyone who crossed his path. Usually when someone develops a shorthand like that, it’s a cover for not remembering the other person’s name, or not much caring. For David, who used it with even his oldest friends, the effect was the opposite. He was gifted in his ability to establish a human connection almost immediately, which is part of what made him a gifted broadcaster. But it was more than that. He made you feel he was your buddy because he was. He mixed sincerity and tough-mindedness as well as any reporter I ever knew.
Not that it's any consolation, but David Bloom, who died Sunday morning of a pulmonary embolism, has his place in journalistic history now. For those who don’t know any soldiers personally, he was the face of the Iraq war, bringing his energy, curiosity and talent for vivid description to bear in a way that broke through the cascade of images. Whether he was talking about battlefield tactics, sandstorms or MREs, he took the viewer into the desert with him. Other correspondents might have ended up closer to the fighting, but none conveyed the look and feel of the whole experience better.
The brand new technology he brought with him helped, of course. It provided clear satellite images from a moving vehicle — a breakthrough marveled at within the industry. But unlike some others in the news business, Bloom didn’t hog the credit. Viewers may remember David gently directing his cameraman while on camera, then praising him. He was entirely natural and unselfconscious on the air, yet conscious of the audience’s sophistication about television. This took his coverage to a new level.
It’s not too much to say that David was loved at NBC News, which cannot be honestly said of everyone on television. There’s something about the camera that makes people primp and preen and begin to think that the story is about them. David never fell for any of that. He was impish and exuberant and totally committed to finding the excitement and importance of what he covered. Anyone who says reporters are all cynics never met him.
Because he was strong in both live reports and taped pieces (a rare combination), David was central to NBC News coverage of every major story of the last decade, from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Clinton White House to Sept. 11th to last fall’s sniper attacks in Washington. Even as a “Weekend Today” anchor, he was always the first guy you wanted at the scene. When he arrived, he quickly broke big stories, snagged big interviews and generously helped his colleagues, even if he delighted in scaring his producers by finishing just before air time.
There will be a lot of talk in coming days about David’s lost potential. Every war produces a new media star and David had the inside track this time. I ran into a famous TV agent the other day who said that Bloom (whom he doesn’t represent) was destined to be a network evening news anchor somewhere. He might have been right; David was plenty ambitious. But I know he also chafed at being an anchor. He was a reporter at heart, never more excited than when sent off to cover the next big story.
I only heard David Bloom complain once. It was 6 a.m. and we were sitting on a chilly outdoor set in Tallahassee, Fla., covering the aftermath of the 2000 election. David had been there forever and thought he was going home that day. Now he was told he wasn’t, and he talked about how much he missed his wife, Melanie, and their three little girls.
We’ll miss you, too, buddy.
(Jonathan Alter is a Newsweek columnist and NBC News contributing correspondent.)