The death of an Oregon editor suggests just how much today's newspapers have both changed and remain the same. The 63-year-old editorial writer for The Oregonian died in bed with a woman who was not his wife, something that happened to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer editor in the 1970s as well. But the Portland paper felt compelled to reveal the intimate details to its readers this week while the P-I, even though its editor's assignation was a juicy story, didn't think it was the public's right to know about it.
It was the biggest story in the P-I newsroom that day (and for tense months to follow, as the grieving widow and the Other Woman continued to work together). But it never saw the light of newsprint. The editor was remembered in a respectable obit.
When Robert J. Caldwell died last Saturday of a heart attack, The Oregonian likewise ran a nice obituary the next day saying its Pulitzer Prize-winning editor had a "big smile and a bigger laugh," noting he died of a heart attack, and adding that "more information will be published as it becomes available."
It became available the following day, when the paper produced a talk-of-the-town story that began:
Bob Caldwell, editor of The Oregonian's editorial pages, was in the Tigard apartment of a 23-year-old woman when he went into cardiac arrest Saturday afternoon.
The woman called 9-1-1 at 4:43 p.m. to report that Caldwell, 63, was coughing and then unresponsive after a sex act.
Caldwell was rushed to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
The woman, said the paper, told deputies she met Caldwell about a year ago at Portland Community College. Caldwell, she said, knew she didn't have much money, so he provided her cash for books and other things for school in exchange for sex acts at her apartment.
Caldwell had not given her money Saturday, she told deputies. They decided against pursuing prostitution charges. Deputies notified Caldwell's family of his death Saturday evening.
The paper didn't give a precise reason for running the follow-up, but it was a correction of sorts, noting that the paper had "previously erroneously reported that Caldwell had been found in his parked car on Saturday, based on information from a family friend."
Details of the death had become part of the public record, with police and fire responses involved. It appears the paper, in order to correct its error and preserve credibility, had to reluctantly reveal the steamy truth.
As it turned out, the story was a hit with readers, becoming one of the Oregonian's most-read and most-commented. Some opined, "Who cares?" while others debated the ethics and necessity of reporting an editor's personal digressions. One offered grudging respect:
They not only put this stuff online, they put it on the front page of their Metro section. I've been one of their biggest critics over the years, so I should give them their ups for the way they handled this.
The person most affected by the story - Caldwell's widow, and mother of their three children - seems to have come to terms with it. Her husband, at least, would have agreed with its publication, she says.
As Lora Cuykendall wrote on her Facebook page, Caldwell "would have understood why The Oregonian needed to print the story." And he would have "regretted the anguish that it caused to those he loves -- both outside and inside of the newspaper."
Her husband was a "kind, loving and fair man," she noted, and "we love him unconditionally."