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 previously erroneously reported that Caldwell had been found in his parked car on Saturday.
Caldwell led The Oregonian’s editorial board since November 1995 after a long career in Oregon newspapers. Under his direction, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series of editorials about abuses at the Oregon State Hospital.
He was a statewide leader in newspaper professional organizations, including the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, whose causes he championed for more than 30 years.
Back in the late 1990s Bob Caldwell published some of my earliest work as a columnist. Those columns are in a file folder in my office. Bob took an early interest in my writing career. He would send me encouraging emails, or call me from time to time. Whenever I was in Portland, he would tell me to come by the office. We would walk from The Oregonian to the Oak Room at the Benson Hotel where he would order a bourbon or scotch, I never paid attention to that, and I would stick to water, with lemon, please.
To be honest, it was all quite intimidating to me. I didn’t begin my first journalism job until my 40th birthday. Really. Started my first reporting job on that birthday. I hadn’t worked on a high school or college paper. Everything I learned, I learned boots-on-the-ground.
Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of great mentors along the way. People who were always so willing to help me. I could never figure out why. What did they see in me that was worth their time? I know sitting here now with my fifth book hitting the shelves of bookstores around the country this week, that might seem like false modesty to you but it’s the truth. I am living a life I never envisioned for myself. Certainly not at age 14 or 24 or even at age 40.
I owe my success to the likes of a lot of people. Bob Caldwell was one of them. He published my very first oped in The Oregonian long before we ever met face to face. Bob was intrigued by my southern roots, my Christian faith, and other things.
Things I didn’t notice at first. (I’m a lot more dense than I come across at times.)
I didn’t think anything of it when Bob was overtly affectionate. I’m not going into details here but suffice it to say that after a few of these encounters, and a word of caution from other mentors at The Oregonian, I kept a respectable distance from Bob.
I was saddened when Tim came home tonight and told me Bob had died. The last time we spoke Bob was working on a screenplay and I was about to publish my first memoir.
My assumption was that Bob died from a heart attack. He was a man with big appetites, as you can obviously see from the story that his own former employer ran about his death.
This sort of salacious reporting is exactly what we cover in Com 201, the Media and Culture class I teach at Central Washington University: What’s the difference between news and gossip? And when do we cross the line?
Columnist Liz Smith defined gossip as news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.
Others have defined gossip as the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid. That does seem to clarify a lot of what passes for news these days.
For me, reporting on former Senator John Edwards’s adultery seems absolutely appropriate. But giving the specific details of Bob Caldwell’s death seems mean-spirited.
What do you think?