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December 8th, 2009

Culver’s Chief of Staff Ordered Intimidation of Des Moines Register Reporter

Chet Culver 5Emails obtained by TheIowaRepublican.com between Governor Chet Culver’s communications staff and two Des Moines Register reporters show that the Governor’s office threatened Des Moines Register political reporter Jason Clayworth after he publishing unflattering photos of Governor Culver while Culver participated in a triathlon.

Clayworth’s blog appeared on the Des Moines Register’s political page for less than an hour on the afternoon of November 18th. Below is what Clayworth posted on the Register’s webpage.

Pictures of a shirtless Chet Culver?

Pictures of the triathlon that Gov. Chet Culver participated in last weekend have been posted online. While the pictures do not include detailed descriptions, it appears that Culver wore a yellow cap while swimming. In another picture, he’s standing shirtless before the bike portion. Culver completed the Boy Ranch Triathlon in Florida in 3:03:27.

Troy Price, a spokesman for the governor, said he wasn’t sure if these pictures are the governor. However, from the pictures, it doesn’t appear that many participants were of the governor’s build. The pictures are posted on the StateOfMindSports.net web site. You decide if the guy with the yellow cap is the governor.

[Clayworth then posted a number of photos]

Erin Seidler, Culver’s Communication Director, sent the following email to Jason Clayworth minutes after he had published the article and photos.

From: Seidler, Erin [IGOV] [mailto:Erin.Seidler@iowa.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 1:53 PM
To: Clayworth, Jason
Cc: Hunter, Carol; Frew, John [IGOV]; Price, Troy [IGOV]
Subject: Blog Post

Jason –

After seeing your attempt at mocking the Governor today, the Governor’s office will no longer be responding to your questions or providing you with information until you change the post and apologize. You better than anyone know what it is like to have personal photographs posted on a blog. Please let us know how you would like to proceed.

Erin Seidler

Erin Seidler
Communications Director
Governor’s Office
1007 E. Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
Direct: 515/281-4294
Cell: 515/537-4465
E-mail: erin.seidler@iowa.gov
Website: www.governor.iowa.gov

Clayworth’s response to Seidler in which he apologizes and removes his article:

From: Clayworth, Jason [mailto:jclaywor@desmoine.gannett.com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 2:30 PM
To: Seidler, Erin [IGOV]
Cc: Hunter, Carol; Frew, John [IGOV]; Price, Troy [IGOV]
Subject: RE: Blog Post

Erin,

I do apologize.

The intent of the blog was/is not to mock the governor and I’m sorry it was perceived as doing so.

Instead, the point was to provide our readers with additional pictures of the governor, who admirably completed a grueling marathon. That’s noteworthy and, as a public figure, our readers are interested in those pictures.

Again, I am sorry you perceived the post as mocking but please be assured that was not my intent. My goal with the blog was to bring about additional attention to what I consider to be a significant accomplishment.

To avert any inclination of disrespect and to show gratitude for all of the assistance your office has provided in the past, I have removed the post.

Sincerely,
Jason Clayworth

Seidler then thanked Clayworth for removing the blog post. The email exchange clearly shows the Governor’s office purposely intimidating a reporter in hopes to get the story removed from the Register’s website. It is obvious that Clayworth took Seidler’s threat to black list him very seriously. If he would have refused to give into Seidler’s demands, Clayworth might have put his own job in jeopardy. As a political reporter, it is imperative for him to have the ability to ask the Governor’s office for information and comment, Seidler’s threat essentially would have made it impossible for Clayworth to do his job.

The most shocking development isn’t that Seidler successfully intimidated a reporter, it’s that she was told to do so by Governor Culver’s Chief of Staff, John Frew.

In response to several questions concerning Seidler’s threatening email to Clayworth, Frew responded to TheIowaRepublican.com by writing, “I considered the posting of those photos to be a mean spirited attempt to damage the personal reputation of Governor Culver. You and I both know that there is no other explanation. Petty personal attacks are to be expected from industry-specific media such as The Iowa Republican, but never from the mainstream, independent media. Fortunately, the Des Moines Register agreed and withdrew the photos. It’s a good rule for you to consider adopting. We’ve never met, but if you happened to be someone who has a physical or mental impairment, or happened to weigh more than others think you should, I would be just as disappointed if someone ran a photo of you with an unflattering perspective. Let me know as I would be happy to defend you should the same thing happen to you. P.S. Erin’s actions were at my direction. Have a great day.”

What is ironic about the entire situation is that Troy Price, Culver’s Press Secretary, was communicating with Jennifer Jacobs, another reporter for Des Moines Register, the day before Frew ordered Seidler to threaten Jason Clayworth.

Jacobs had requested information regarding the triathlon as well as a photo. Price provided her with his overall time, his individual event splits, and three photos. Jacobs even sent Price her story and he was pleased with it, except he took offense to her use of the term “turtle-like” when describing Culver’s run time. Price asked Jacobs, “Any chance we could just say ‘his run time was a bit slow?’

The arrogance and heavy-handedness of Culver’s Chief of Staff is unbelievable. It was Culver’s own communications team that originally told Jason Clayworth that the Governor was going to participate in a triathlon. Culver’s office intentionally sought media attention for the event. When a Des Moines Register reporter sought comment and photos following the event, the Governor’s office complied with the request. Yet, when another reporter posted additional publicly available photos from the event, Culver’s Chief of Staff called foul and ordered Seidler to intimidate that reporter.

This is simply a case of the Governor’s office wanting to control every aspect of a story that they themselves created. Nobody would have known that Culver participated in a triathlon had Culver’s press office not said anything. Furthermore, the Governor’s office supplied information and photos following the event. The only problem Frew and the communications staff had with Clayworth’s article is that it showed the Governor with his shirt off. This would be a non-story had the governor worn a wet suit or always kept a shirt on.

In addition to the heavy handedness of the Governor’s office, The Des Moines Register also should bear some blame for folding under the pressure from the Governor’s office. Clayworth clearly states the reason why he wrote his article. Seidler’s email was also sent to Carol Hunter, the Register’s Editorial page editor. One would think that Hunter would have sided with Clayworth, not the Governor’s office.

Can the people of Iowa trust the news contained in the Des Moines Register now that we have proof that they gave into the heavy handed demands of the Governor’s office? What else has the Governor’s office prevented the Des Moines Register from printing or reporting?

The above emails were obtained from the Governor’s office through an open records request by TheIowaRepublican.com. Krusty Konservative, a TIR blogger had noticed that the Des Moines Register had removed Clayworth’s blog entry, but had saved it and published it and the photos of Culver on TheIowaRepublican.com website. To date, more that story has been viewed over 19,000 times.

Photo by Dave Davidson


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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