Register kills column critical of Overholser p.10

By: Mark Fitzgerald AT THE SAME time the Des Moines Register was taking some heat locally and nationally for printing a story about the resignation months ago of Geneva Overholser and David Westphal, the newspaper's editor also killed a column that was harshly critical of the two.
Editor Dennis Ryerson's decision to kill the piece by popular "Iowa Boy" columnist Chuck Offenburger roiled the Des Moines media almost as much as the original story reporting that "powerful personal reasons" were in part responsible for the February resignation of former editor Overholser.
In his own op-ed column Oct. 3, editor Ryerson said he had received reader complaints about the decision, and some threats to cancel subscriptions.
Ryerson wrote that he killed the column because it "presented, as fact, information I felt our reporting had not proved" and Offenburger "declined to make any changes in it."
The decision to kill the column came as some media commentary was suggesting darkly that the Register printed the story on Overholser and Westphal ? which reported that both were divorcing their spouses and had bought a house together ? as some sort of revenge against their famous and outspoken former editor.
"Nothing stings like a spurned employer with a printing press. After former editor skewers Gannett chain, she reads all about her divorce," read the headline on the front-page Wall Street Journal account of the controversy.
Offenburger's killed column, however, was an angry cri de coeur from a Register journalist who believes Overholser and Westphal made the reporters there "look like chumps."
In a telephone interview, Offenburger said he was particularly upset to learn about the personal circumstances involved in the pair's departure because he had sided with them in print when they left.
"In the next column rotation, I said Geneva and David were great journalists and great friends of ours and they were leaving for the reasons they were saying. And that if [publisher Charles] Edwards [Jr.] did not make changes, then Geneva and David wouldn't be the last people walking out the door," Offenburger said.
When he and other journalists learned of the personal relationship between Overholser and Westphal, Offenburger said, "We just didn't feel like we got the whole truth ? we feel upset about that."
"This is a business where we deal in truth ? and the examination of other's lives," Offenburger said. "They're eligible for that kind of examination, too ? probably more so really than many people. And they need to be held to a high standard.
"Certainly [detailing personal factors] would have been painful and uncomfortable then," he continued, "but it's that right now. "And if they had (disclosed personal reasons to leave), the reams and reams of copy about all this probably would not have been written."
Offenburger said the Register was right to report personal details about two newsroom executives who had left eight months before.
"It's my opinion ? and I think it's widely held through the Des Moines Register newsroom and probably throughout Iowa ? if you are managing editor and editor of the Des Moines Register, you are certainly a public figure. Everything about you is of intense public interest," Offenburger said.
"My feeling on it," he added, "is whatever reasons they are leaving for should be openly noted and discussed."


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