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.
We’ve heard from hundreds of you about our Carson King coverage. We took appropriate action because there’s nothing more important than having readers’ trust. https://t.co/hnfCsjL8gD
— Des Moines Register (@DMRegister) September 27, 2019
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.
I genuinely feel sorry for the young reporter who got fired, when the ostensibly adult Des Moines Register editorial staff who debated whether to run with it are still there this morning, debating other stuff to run with
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) September 27, 2019
The worst part of this is the Des Moines Register talking about how their editors debated whether to mention the bad old tweets dug up by their reporter, decided to mention them lower in the story, but are now firing the reporter anyhow.
— Tom Gara (@tomgara) September 27, 2019
Oh you guys got the Des Moines Register reporter fired. Hmm.
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) September 27, 2019
So they fired the reporter with the bad tweets.
A lot of this social media snitch culture would be solved by brands, companies, and authority figures simply growing a pair: don’t bend to a hysterical mob, see whether the person in front of you is legitimately remorseful. https://t.co/rhAtktTTbs
— Liz Wolfe (@lizzywol) September 27, 2019
The Des Moines register has canceled the reporter who tried to cancel the philanthropist Carson King. Not because he showed horrific news judgement. But because he too had bad tweets in his past. Something tells me they’re missing the point.
— Will Cain (@willcain) September 27, 2019
So the Des Moines Register stupidly reported on the dumb teenage tweets of a college kid raising money for charity, and the lesson they learned from the ensuing outrage is to fire their reporter for his own dumb teenage tweets? https://t.co/TggjgvAIIB
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 27, 2019
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
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