Before the annual CyHawk football game , Carson King was an unknown security guard at Prairie Meadows, a race track and casino in Altoona, Iowa. Since ESPN chose Ames as their location for College Game Day, the 24-year-old decided to go early and made a sign to capture attention that said, “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished” and directed donations to his Venmo account.
What started as a joke became a fundraiser for the University of Iowa’s
Aaron Calvin, a reporter with The Des Moines Register, went through King’s public Twitter profile for background material for a profile that he wrote.
He searched back to 2012 when King was 16-years-old and found two racist jokes, Calvin and his editors decided to include that in the profile because this, apparently, is newsworthy. Anheuser-Busch, who brews Busch Light beer, announced they would have no further association with King but would honor their commitment to donate $350,000 to the hospital.
King publicly apologized during a press conference on Tuesday.
Since the tweets became public, King did the right and classy thing by apologizing and refuting the tweets.
Those tweets should never have made it into the story.
Carol Hunter, the executive editor of The Des Moines Register, explained the thought process involved in including this in their article:
On Monday evening, Register reporter Aaron Calvin was assigned to interview King for a profile. On Tuesday, as he worked to write the story, he did a routine background check on King that included a review of publicly visible social media posts, a standard part of a reporter’s work on a profile. Calvin found two racist jokes that King had posted on Twitter in 2012. Calvin asked King about them, and he expressed deep regret.
That prompted a discussion involving several Register editors about how best to proceed: Should that material be included in the profile at all? The jokes were highly inappropriate and were public posts. Shouldn’t that be acknowledged to all the people who had donated money to King’s cause or were planning to do so?
counter arguments: The tweets were posted seven years ago,when King was 16. And he was remorseful. Should we chalk up the posts to a youthful mistake and omit the information?
Eventually, Register editors decided we would include the information, but at the bottom of the story. We thought we should be transparent about what we had found, but not highlight it at the top of the story or as a separate story. It was planned as a few paragraphs toward the bottom of the profile.
I take exception with their “routine” practice. I can’t fathom a good reason to go back seven years into someone’s Twitter account, especially when they are 24-years-old. What was he looking for? Why does The Des Moines Register believe this is necessary to do for a profile of a 24-year-old who is experiencing brief national attention because of a good cause?
For what purpose? What did Calvin set out to find?
Embarrassing tweets apparently.
He was 16-years-old. I thank God that social media didn’t exist when I was 16-years-old, especially in light of today’s cancel culture that lacks grace.
The Des Moines Register knows about this culture and they should have known better. There is a time when bringing up past tweets of public officials and candidates can be instructive, I report on current tweets all of the time. What I don’t do is troll back years in order to dig up dirt, especially when someone was a teenager. That is not journalism, it’s just trying to dig up dirt on a private citizen.
The Des Moines Register owes Carson King an apology.