Over the past two weeks, readers of The Oregonian have witnessed an extraordinary episode in the newspaper's 162-year history.
On March 10, Bob Caldwell, a respected Oregon journalist and longtime editor of the newspaper's opinion pages, died of a heart attack at age 63. Two days later, the newspaper told readers Caldwell had suffered his fatal heart attack while in his car.
The next day, March 13, the paper printed a correction—based on a police report—that revealed Caldwell had suffered the heart attack after a sex act in the Tigard apartment of a 23-year-old woman.
The woman told police she had befriended Caldwell at Portland Community College, that Caldwell knew she didn't have much money, and he occasionally gave her cash for books in exchange for sex acts.
Suddenly, a local journalist's obituary had become international news.
In a March 16 column, Oregonian Editor Peter Bhatia explained that the original error came after one of the newspaper's veteran editors provided false information about how and where Caldwell had died. Bhatia fired the editor, Kathleen Glanville, although he didn't tell readers he had done so.
Glanville apologized to the newsroom, explaining she had hoped to protect Caldwell's reputation.
WW has subsequently learned Glanville did more than provide a false story to her paper: She also drove to the young woman's apartment and moved Caldwell's vehicle from the scene. Glanville declined comment.
Part of Bhatia's message was that, once The Oregonian had the police report, the newspaper had done due diligence in checking out the young woman's background.
"We went to the apartment and talked to neighbors and the woman's mother," Bhatia told readers. "We checked her criminal record; again, a typical response. She has only minor offenses, none related to sex or prostitution."
Bhatia's account is far from the whole story.
The young woman Caldwell visited was a full-time call girl whom one admiring client, in an online review, called âthe reigning princess of the West Hills.â
Using Internet archives and public records, WW found that the woman has been advertising her services for three years on a regional website called TNA Board (warning: not safe for work), often used by hookers and johns. Her advertisements feature explicit photographs of her performing oral sex, by all accounts her specialty.
She charges up to $200 an hour and tells prospective johns she won't take them on as clients without at least two references from other prostitutes. As she put it in her ad on tnaboard.com, "I do not see newbies!"
WW found no evidence Caldwell met the woman through the Internet.
The woman declined to answer WW's questions. She expressed sorrow about Caldwell's death.
"I feel extremely sad and helpless that I was unable to do more to save his life," she said in a statement. "His death will haunt me for the rest of my life."
WW has chosen not to name the woman or use her online pseudonym.
According to records, the woman was born in another Western state and moved to the Portland area about 10 years ago. She graduated from a local high school where she was a cheerleader.
In 2007, the woman was convicted on a misdemeanor theft charge. In 2009, when she was 20, she began advertising as a prostitute on tnaboard.com.
On her Web page on the site, she mentioned attending classes but said she was available to johns during the week, for a total of 43 hours Monday through Friday. She signed her posts with a quote from the Native American painter Fritz Scholder: âLife is short and death is long.â
Clients who wrote reviews of her on tnaboard.com praised her techniqueââto die for,â as one poster described.
She said she took calls at her Tigard apartment, sometimes meeting clients at Portland strip clubs or private sex parties. She advertised herself as independent—no pimp or madam, a claim WW couldn't independently verify.
Her mother, who was at her daughter's apartment when a WW reporter knocked on the door, says she was aware of her daughter's work. In online posts, the young woman explained she called her mother before seeing clients to âcheck inâ for safety reasons.
The woman's mother told WW that her daughter did not know who Caldwell was, or that he worked for The Oregonian, until after his death.
He had spent a lifetime in Oregon journalism. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Caldwell worked for newspapers in Albany, Springfield and Gresham, where he was publisher for the local newspaper, the Outlook. He joined The Oregonian in 1983 and two years later became the paper's metropolitan editor.
He served two years as the newspaper's first public editor, and in 1995 took over as editor of the newspaper's editorial board. Caldwell oversaw more than 10,000 editorials in that time, touching on every aspect of Oregon life. His was often the final say when it came to the newspaper's political endorsements. And he oversaw editorials about the Oregon State Hospital that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.
In his column after Caldwell's death, Bhatia noted that in 2010 he had chosen not to publish a story about Caldwell's arrest for DUII. (He pleaded no contest.) At the time, Bhatia's decision triggered anger in the newsroom, especially when other news outlets, including WW, did report the story.
This time, explaining his decision to reveal the details of Caldwell's death, Bhatia acknowledged the difficult situation but believed the newspaper had to correct the record.
"Frankly, this was a no-win choice," Bhatia wrote in his column. "If we went with the story, we would be criticized for besmirching a good man and further hurting his family. If we held the details back, we would be accused of a cover-up."
Bhatia said the original erroneous report about Caldwell's death resulted from a lack of skepticism about what otherwise seemed a routine matter.
â[W]e can be faulted for not digging deeper,â Bhatia wrote.
Bhatia and Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson III declined to respond to WW's questions.
Since 2000, The Oregonian, with Caldwell as editorial page editor, published at least 16 unsigned editorials on prostitution.
"Some people will tell you that prostitution is a victimless crime," an Oregonian editorial said in 2001. "They're wrong…. [W]hen you think about it, you realize prostitution isn't 'victimless' even when prostitutes reach the grand old ages of 15 or 17 or 19."
In 2008, another Oregonian editorial linked prostitution to "distress, blight and violence," and noted that many women in the sex trade "are victims of incest and abuse, have a parent in prison or a drug problem."
In another 2008 editorial, the newspaper lamented the "betrayal" of then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who'd been caught in a prostitution scandal.
"He of all people understood the bright line between legal and illegal conduct, between public trust and opprobrium, and between treating people like human beings and treating them as objects," the editorial said. "If he indeed consorted with high-priced call girls…he is guilty of criminality, indecency and gross hypocrisy, making it unimaginable that he can govern his state effectively again."
As recently as 2010, The Oregonian editorialized in favor of a city proposal to seize assets—including cars and cash—from pimps and johns.
"The embarrassment factor probably doesn't weigh heavily on pimps," the newspaperâs editorial said, âbut with johns, itâs a different story.â