When a Des Moines Register reporter on Tuesday helped expose racist tweets posted years ago by a local man who used his viral Internet fame to raise millions for a children’s hospital, it inspired a vicious backlash against “cancel culture” – and the reporter himself, who critics soon found had his own history of offensive posts.
The Register announced late Thursday that the reporter, Aaron Calvin, no longer works for the newspaper. The move comes as the Register has hired extra security under a deluge of threats from people furious about its decision to pursue the story.
Carol Hunter, the Register’s executive editor, announced Thursday that, after the backlash, the newspaper was reexamining both its procedures for reviewing employees’ social media accounts and its internal policies for how to report on the backgrounds of profile subjects.
“We’re revising our policies and practices, including those that did not uncover our own reporter’s past inappropriate social media postings,” she wrote in a column. “We took appropriate action because there is nothing more important in journalism than having readers’ trust.”
The case revolved around Carson King, 24, a casino security guard who gained unexpected fame after he appeared in the background of ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Sept. 14 holding a sign requesting donations for his “Busch Light Supply.” When strangers quickly sent him more than $600 on Venmo, he decided instead to donate the money to a local children’s hospital. Soon, Anheuser-Busch and Venmo announced matching donations as his fundraising topped $1 million.
— New York Post (@nypost) September 23, 2019
That’s when the Register began working on a profile, and Calvin learned of two racist tweets King had sent when he was 16 years old. Before the newspaper could publish its profile, though, King held a news conference Tuesday evening apologizing for the racist jokes and revealing that Anheuser-Busch had cut ties with him. King said Calvin had brought the tweets to his attention, though he said he didn’t blame the newspaper.
A statement from our editor: pic.twitter.com/ZH9AhcrYbg
— Des Moines Register (@DMRegister) September 25, 2019
Online vitriol quickly built against both the Register and Calvin on Tuesday evening, even before the Register published its largely positive profile of King. Critics upset with Calvin for surfacing the old tweets dug into the reporter’s own timeline and found troubling posts that mocked same-sex marriage, made light of abuse against women and used a racial slur.
Calvin began deleting the old tweets Tuesday evening and then apologized.
“Hey just wanted to say that I have deleted previous tweets that have been inappropriate or insensitive,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been erased. “I apologize for not holding myself to the same high standards as the Register holds others.”
The reporter locked his Twitter account Tuesday evening as angry messages flooded his mentions.
The newspaper also faced harsh criticism, leading Hunter to explain late on Tuesday that the paper’s editors had debated whether to report on King’s old tweets and eventually decided to include them low in the profile. The paper later clarified that Anheuser-Busch learned independently of King’s tweets and not from the Register’s reporting.
On Wednesday, Des Moines police said they were monitoring threats against the newspaper.
“We are certainly aware of some of the threats they’ve had. They made a report to the police department so that goes on our radar as a place we are going to want to give a little extra attention to,” Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek told WHO TV. Parizek said the newspaper hired an off-duty officer to provide additional security outside of the newsroom.
Although the bulk of criticism blamed the newspaper for allegedly trying to “cancel” or tarnish King’s fundraiser, coverage of the tweets and the ensuing backlash have spurred more businesses to support his cause. A number of businesses stood by King, and some even increased their donations to Stead Family Children’s Hospital at the University of Iowa. Venmo kept its promise to match King’s fundraiser through Monday. And even though the company decided not to proceed with plans to put King’s face on its cans, Anheuser-Busch honored the more than $350,000 it had pledged to the hospital.
“None of what’s happened has slowed King’s fundraising for the children’s hospital,” Hunter said in her Thursday column. “We can all agree that’s good news.”