When Robert J. Caldwell, Editorial Page Director at the Oregonian, died Saturday, the paper published the following article the next day:
Robert J. Caldwell, editorial page editor of The Oregonian since November 1995, died Saturday of a heart attack.
Caldwell — simply “Bob” to everyone at The Oregonian — was known all over the building for his big smile and a bigger laugh. But those close to him also knew him to have a keen mind, excellent news judgment and a heart full of compassion.
Nice, typical obituary you’d expect.
Monday, however, the paper published this update regarding the 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.
I don’t understand what public interest is served by broadcasting the prurient details of Caldwell’s death — a man who Sunday’s article pointed out is survived by his wife, his three daughters, and his mother. If she’s anything like my mother, she probably saved every clipping related to him. This is a great one to put on the final page of the scrapbook.
Perhaps the Oregonian wanted to avoid the appearance of bias by only printing the uplifting obit. However, that one focused on his actual role within the company and the community. If he’d died while stealing petty cash in the newsroom, that would justify the follow-up article. But, no, he died in a private situation that had no bearing on his performance as a journalist. He wasn’t a sex columnist, and he never once wrote an editorial endorsing the cardiovascular benefits of sex with 23-year-old women.
It was necessary to correct the erroneously reported information that Caldwell “had been found in his parked car on Saturday, based on information from a family friend,” but it would’ve been sufficient to just state he died in a private residence.
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.
I question the phrasing here. It makes an already shady situation (respected older man having an affair with a much younger woman) more salacious than what might actually be reality. They appear to have had a sexual relationship for about a year. They had sex. He bought her things. Was he more inclined to support her scholastic pursuits because she had sex with him? Probably. Was she more likely to have sex with a 63 year old because he was generous financially? Maybe. The line between “dirty old man” and “john” is admittedly thin, but is this even close to prostitution?
Caldwell’s widow, Lora Cuykendall, said he “would have understood why The Oregonian needed to print the story” about the circumstances of his death.
She added that he would have ‘regretted the anguish that it caused to those he loves – both outside and inside of the newspaper’.
The Oregonian had shown restraint previously when Caldwell was arrested on a DUI charge outside a Portland strip club in 2010. Although local media ran with it, the newspaper didn’t touch the story. Guess it followed Voltaire’s advice.
“The living deserve our respect. The dead deserve only the truth.”