You’re not going to believe this story. I’m not going to say it contains everything that’s wrong with journalism and corporate America today, but it’s getting there. From a column by Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Des Moines Register, about a story that really, really ticked off readers:
The Des Moines Register staff has heard from hundreds of people in the past few days upset over our handling of a story on Carson King, the 24-year-old whose Busch Light sign on ESPN’s “College GameDay” show launched more than a million dollars in donations to an Iowa children’s hospital.
We’ve listened with an open mind to everyone, but especially Iowans, the people who are our neighbors, who care as much as we do about our state and everyone who lives here.
And we hear you: You’re angry, you’re disappointed and you want us to understand that.
I want to be as transparent as possible about what we did and why, answer the questions you’ve raised and tell you what we’ve learned so far and what we’ll try to do better. For one, we’re revising our policies and practices, including those that did not uncover our own reporter’s past inappropriate social media postings. That reporter is no longer with the Register.
This King guy was an unlikely social media star. He held up a sign on ESPN asking people to send him money to buy more Busch Light. He got over a million dollars, which he donated to a children’s hospital. Anheuser-Busch made a big deal about it — but cut him loose when it was discovered that in 2012, when he was 16 years old, he tweeted a couple of racist things.
The Des Moines Register reported on the racist tweets in a big profile of King. According to the paper’s editor, they did not tell Anheuser-Busch about the tweets, and the beer maker (sorry, “beer” maker) dropped King of its own accord, before the story was published. Nevertheless, the story was published, and thanks to the newspaper, this young man whose crime was becoming an accidental social media star and raising a lot of money for a children’s hospital was outed as a teenage bigot.
King called a press conference and apologized for two obnoxious racist jokes he had tweeted when he was 16 years old. “Obviously I’ve made mistakes in my past; everyone has,” he told reporters. “And I really hope people see at this point in my life, I’m grown, I’m caring, I’m generous. I hope that’s what people focus on.”
Why did the newspaper do this? Why hold this poor guy up for community contempt over two things he tweeted when he was a 16-year-old? It’s wrong, and readers were right to drag the paper.
But get this: amid the controversy, the paper discovered that Aaron Calvin, the reporter who outed King as a teenage HATER, had himself tweeted offensive things when he was a teenager. According to the Washington Post:
And then the paper fired him! Which is just wrong. They shouldn’t have exposed the idiotic tweets of a 16 year old who, eight years later, was remorseful, and which had absolutely nothing to do with the good works that brought him fame. And they should not have fired the reporter. It is possible that the reporter went to his editors with the information he found, and they made the call to include the information in the newspaper, under his byline. It sounds like Carol Hunter and her team are scapegoating Aaron Calvin.
It was good to read in the Post account that not all Iowans are taking this cancel culture garbage from Anheuser-Busch and the Des Moines Register lying down:
Good! Big Business and Big Media sandbagged this guy. They deserve public anger. This cancel culture won’t stop until companies and institutions are compelled to pay a price for cancelling people.
I’m just so very, very happy that Twitter and other forms of social media did not exist when I was in high school.
A young Des Moines Register reporter retweeted Osita Nwanevu’s article about how cancel culture isn’t real and shortly thereafter got fired for offensive tweets he did like 8 years ago pic.twitter.com/tNITE9RlGN
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) September 27, 2019