By Tom Quiner
Can you forgive the tabloid headline I employed for this post?
A “sex scandal” of sorts did grace our local newspaper, the Des Moines Register, this past weekend. I’m not comfortable with the way the paper covered the story.
For out-of-state readers of Quiner’s Diner, here’s a quick rehash:
• The superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, a 57 year old woman, turned in her resignation to accept a comparable position in the Omaha public school district. This was a nice step up for her with a commensurate increase in salary and benefits, a package in the $300,000 a year range.
• Her resignation was to go into effect in several months to allow Des Moines a little transition time.
• A short while later, she abruptly announced that her resignation was immediate.
The paper did some sniffing around and asked the district to release all of her e-mails within 6 weeks of her resignation that included the word “Omaha” in them. Keep in mind, if you work for government, these are public records, even if you’ve deleted them (they sit in a server).
The e-mails revealed she had been engaged in an affair. Titillating details were sprinkled throughout her communications with her male lover. Both participants in the affair were married. Only she worked for the school district. He works in the private sector.
The paper had several decisions to make:
1. Is this news?
It seems obvious that, yes, it is news. Her abrupt departure indicated there might be something going on we don’t know about.
2. Is it necessary to reveal all of the salacious details of her communication with her lover?
The Register said yes and published a sampling of her e-mails on their website.
The woman is ruined. The Omaha district fired her before she even began.
You know the old adage: sex sells. The question is, did the Des Moines Register really need to publish all of the sordidness with the knowledge that the woman would be ruined if they did?
Couldn’t they have just reported that she had carried on impermissible personal correspondence with an adult acquaintance on company time and equipment?
We didn’t need to read about the types of sexual encounters the participants enjoyed.
We did need to know if a student was involved, and one was not.
I don’t condone her personal behavior.
But in their duty to protect the public interest, I don’t think the Register had to destroy her life either.