Montezuma Record editor defends comments against online outrage

Chuck Dunham calls it a 'tempest in a teapot'

James Q. Lynch
Published: March 15 2013 | 1:11 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 12:47 pm in
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DES MOINES — A 60-year newspaper veteran calls the online outrage his dead-tree newspaper is causing “a tempest in a teapot” and suggests those calling him a racist find something better to do with their time.

“I don’t know just what to suggest the agitators look at that would give them more satisfaction and be more useful to society,” Chuck Dunham, publisher of the Montezuma Record, said Friday. “It’s too early to tell them to go weed the garden, but that would be a pretty good thing for them to do.”

Dunham, who has been publishing small-town newspapers in southern Poweshiek County since 1958, has drawn the attention and wrath of the online nation with his comments about University to Iowa employees with “hyphenated, unspellable and oriental” names who are paid $100,000 a year or more.

After copies of the Record’s story on UI employee salaries – four pages, 1,500-plus names – were distributed in the Iowa House – apparently at the request of freshman Rep. David Maxwell, R-Gibson, a subscriber and advertiser – two clerks for Democratic lawmakers posted comments on Twitter. The story was picked up by other tweeters and bloggers and Dunham was lambasted for his use of the outdated term “Orientals” and comments they found racist and xenophobic.

In particular, sites, including the HuffingtonPost, Gawker – which called the article “hilariously racist” -- and, closer to home, AmesProgressive, pointed to this comment:

“The relatively high numbers of employees with names from Asia and the Near East is interesting. While there are Smiths and Jones, there are eleven Ahmeds to only 30 Browns.”

And this:

“Hyphenated, unspellable and oriental names may get you the big bucks.”

Dunham repeatedly rejected any racism in his comments.

“Let’s put it this way,” he continued, “if I had found on that list Hans Jorgenson, Jan Jorgenson, Lars Jorgenson, and Eric Jorgenson, I would have noticed it. But it wasn’t there.”

What he did find were many “oriental” or Asian-sounding names.

“In lily-white Iowa it does seem they are over-represented compared to the rest of the population,” Dunham said. “Does it mean Orientals are being educated to a degree that they outshine the rest of the natives of Iowa?”

“I haven’t got the answer, but I noted the anomaly,” he said.

Dunham, who published Iowa State University salaries a couple of years ago, sees his effort as a public service. He claims the Record is the only newspaper to publish the salary list. It is available online at www.TheGazette.com and other newspaper sites.

“I think of my 900 readers, maybe five or six looked at it,” said Dunham, who doubts that any of his detractors are subscribers. “It was worth it for the five or six that looked at it.”

His comments were meant to raise questions about the number of high-paid UI staff members in relation to legislation to set a $32,000-a-year minimum salary for K-12 teachers “who actually see children” and the high cost of university tuition, Dunham said.

“Isn’t it reasonable to wonder how many vice presidents does the UI need? How many deans? The list is full of them,” he said.

As far as his reference to hyphenated names, Dunham said that although they are fashionable they are a headache for anyone trying to create an alphabetized list.

“It’s a problem for a newspaperman,” he said.

Doing it over would not be a problem for Dunham. He would do one thing differently:

“I would print more copies next time.”

Rep. Maxwell did not respond to phone calls and emails Friday.

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