Des Moines Register Parts Ways with Reporter Who Wrote Hit Piece on Viral Beer Sign Guy

 

The Des Moines Register fired the reporter behind a controversial story on a local Iowa man, who used a viral moment on ESPN’s College Gameday to raise $1 million for charity, after it was revealed that the reporter had a history of racist tweets.

The old offensive posts by Aaron Calvin, the now-former Register reporter, became of interest after Calvin penned a profile on viral sensation Carson King that focused on offensive tweets the story subject posted when he was 16, rather than the charitable donations King had raised.

The Register story on King, which was written by Calvin, was widely criticized as a hit piece and a disturbing example of social media “cancel culture” going too far.

Register executive editor Carol Hunter explained the decision to fire Calvin in a column on Thursday: “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.”

While at an Iowa State college football game last weekend, King brought a sign requesting donations to replenish his beer supply that appeared on ESPN and was subsequently shared all over the internet. After receiving a flood of donations, King opted to donate the money to a children’s hospital rather than spend it on beer; the mobile cash payment app Venmo and Anheuser Busch then partnered with King to match donations for the charity. King was then interviewed by the Register and Calvin unearthed his past offensive tweets, leading Anheuser Busch to end their partnership with him.

Despite firing Calvin, who was caught using the n-word and mocking gay marriage in old tweets, the Register editor still defended the ex-reporter’s work in her column.

“In this case, our initial stories drew so much interest that we decided to write a profile of King, to help readers understand the young man behind the handmade sign and the outpouring of donations to the children’s hospital,” wrote Hunter, whose original statement on the controversy noted that “Register editors decided to include” King’s old tweets. “The Register had no intention to disparage or otherwise cast a negative light on King.”

“In doing backgrounding for such a story, reporters talk to family, friends, colleagues or professors,” she added. “We check court and arrest records as well as other pertinent public records, including social media activity. The process helps us to understand the whole person.”

The media reaction to the Register‘s firing of Calvin was mixed, as many noted that his ousting was just a continuation of the same kind of cancel culture that got the paper into the controversy in the first place.

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Caleb Ecarma was a reporter at Mediaite. Email him here: caleb@mediaite.com Follow him on Twitter here: @calebecarma