The Portland Oregonian's editorial page editor Bob Caldwell died over the weekend, and the newspaper that employed him for 29 years honored his passing by reporting that he died while screwing a 23-year-old woman who was not his wife.
As Jim Romenesko chronicled this morning, the Oregonian's original obit for Caldwell noted his "big smile and a bigger laugh," and said he simply died of a heart attack and that "more information will be published as it becomes available." And boy did it become available! The paper soon ran an update to report the unfortunate circumstances of Caldwell's death:
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. Washington County sheriff's officers and medical personnel responded and transported him to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, where he later was pronounced dead.
The woman 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 Oregonian had previously reported, falsely, that Caldwell had died in his car, so it was in something of a spot: It had to correct that error somehow. But did the paper's editors and reporters really feel compelled to be the folks who broke the news that their old pal and colleague bought it while fucking a quasi-hooker four decades his junior?
Is the way he died a story? Sure. It's great gossip. But why the Oregonian had to be the one to peddle it is beyond me. I suppose the editors knew that it would come out eventually, and didn't want to be accused of "covering up" an embarrassing story when it did. Which would sort of be true. But when that reporter for Willamette Week calls up to ask righteously, "Why didn't you report the news that your friend and colleague died suddenly, and quite young, in an extraordinarily embarrassing way that is likely extremely painful to his family?"—it's OK to say, "Because he was my friend and my colleague."
Is that special treatment? Protecting your own? Omerta? Maybe. It's not like every heart-attack story has to include exactly what was happening at the moment of death ("Smith was looking at internet porn when he began clutching his chest"; "Jones died half-way through a bowel evacuation"). But maybe it's OK to be a little hypocritical and protective when your own people actually die, permanently, forever?
Or maybe not. I don't really trust the current management in this regard, which is why I live clean.
UPDATE: Oddly enough, when Caldwell was arrested for a drinking and driving two years ago—an actual crime—his paper didn't report the story. They kind of got it backwards, I think.