Sex scandal rocks Des Moines!

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.


  1. markstevenq on June 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    When I first read this story I agreed with your position. However, I have changed my mind. She is a high ranking public official that left abruptly. The public has a right to know the story behind her departure. More information is better than less. The public can judge the situation for themselves.

    • quinersdiner on June 4, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      I think it’s fair to provide the story behind the departure. I think that could have been handled without providing tabloid details that weren’t really necessary for the public to know.

  2. bobic7 on June 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I agree with Tom Quiner. The Register sunk below the level of the National Enquirer. Donald Kaul would be proud.

    Bob Roelf

  3. MB on June 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Agreed, Tom. I often scan the Register on
    One, but I refuse to give them ad clicks over this story. The emails themselves do not need to be made public.

  4. Michael Amadeo on June 4, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I agree that the Register overstepped its reporting responsibility. Where is the outrage and spilled ink over the Ankeny superitendent that scammed $176,000 from the school district?

    By the way Nancy Sebring was not fired fro her Omaha position. She resigned. Was termination in the foreseeable future, who knows. Fact is she resigned, not terminated.

  5. momofsix on June 5, 2012 at 7:38 am

    It’s interesting that this comes up today, Tom. I was just reading the online West Des Moines Patch this morning. There is an article that explains why the author of an article about the death of a 13 month old in Urbandale and his editor decided to not include the 911 recording of the babysitter trying desperately to save the child. To publish the recording would have only served to hurt more people and make their pain even more public.
    I agree, the emails between Sebring and her lover should not have been printed. To say that she had broken the district’s internet policy should have been enough for the Ragster to print. That would have also alerted the Omaha district to check into it further.

    • quinersdiner on June 5, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Good observation, Theresa. Thanks for writing.

  6. Nader Nazemi on June 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Interesting blog.

    • quinersdiner on June 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks for stopping into Quiner’s Diner. Come again and comment. Thanks!