Journalist Aaron Calvin, the Des Moines Register reporter who wrote about Carson King’s offensive tweets when he was just age 16, says that editors were responsible for the cancelation of the local hero and that he was just doing as he was told by the higher-ups.
Speaking with Buzzfeed News, Calvin said that he feels “abandoned” by the newspaper, whom he claims used him as a scapegoat after he followed standard editorial practice by researching Carson King’s social media history while doing a profile about him.
“This event basically set my entire life on fire,” Calvin told Buzzfeed News.
Earlier this month, Iowa resident Carson King became a media sensation when “ESPN College GameDay” highlighted him holding a sign that read, “Busch Light supply needs replenished. Venmo Carson-King-25.” When his sign went viral, donors poured in all over the country to contribute to the fund. After raising over $1.14 million, King decided to donate the money University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Unfortunately, what began as a positive story quickly turned into an ugly one when a reporter with the Des Moines Register dug into King’s Twitter history to find offensive comments he made eight years ago when he was just 16.
“A routine background check of King’s social media revealed two racist jokes, one comparing black mothers to gorillas and another making light of black people killed in the holocaust. The joke tweets date back to 2012, when King was a 16-year-old high school student,” wrote Aaron Calvin at the Des Moines Register. “When asked about the tweets, King was remorseful and thanked the Register for pointing them out, saying they made him ‘sick.’ He has since deleted them.”
Despite King being 16 at the time of the offensive tweets and expressing remorse, the editors at the Des Moines Register still decided to mention his past sins in a brief paragraph further down the profile. King, knowing the controversy would create a firestorm, immediately issued a public apology for the tweets, which then prompted the beer empire Anheuser-Busch to cut all ties with him, saying his tweets do not align with their values.
“Carson King had multiple social media posts that do not align with our values as a brand or as a company and we will have no further association with him. We are honoring our commitment by donating more than $350,000 to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics,” the company said in a statement to KCCI.
The story prompted such rage in Carson King’s supporters that they immediately searched through reporter Aaron Calvin’s own Twitter history, revealing he had made several offensive comments of his own. Backed into a corner, the Des Moines Register fired Aaron Calvin while refusing to apologize for ever including news of Carson King’s tweets in the original profile.
Calvin, however, says that his editors were the ones who sparked this controversy.
“I was reminded by an editor to background Carson … and I found a few tweets that he published in high school that were racist jokes,” he said. “I knew if I found them, other people would find them as well. Throughout this entire process of the discovery and inclusion of the tweets, the editor knew, the editorial board knew, and the executive editor knew how I’d included them and handled them for the article, and as far as I knew, approved of that.”
“I regret publishing that tweet now,” he continued. “Because I was never trying to hold Carson to any kind of ‘higher standard’ or any kind of standard at all. I was trying to do my job as a reporter, and I think I did so to the best of my ability.”
Calvin ultimately blames “right-wing idealogues” for launching a cancel campaign against him by resurfacing his old tweets, which he says were taken out of context. Since then, he has been bombarded with death threats, forcing him to leave his home and bunk with a friend.
“I recognize that I’m not the first person to be doxed like this — this whole campaign was taken up by right-wing ideologues and largely driven by that force,” he said. “It was just a taste of what I assume that women and journalists of color suffer all the time, but the kind of locality and regional virality of the story made it so intense.”
“As I said when I was speaking with Carson, I don’t think people’s past social media statements should be made to make blanket characterizations about them,” he continued. “Carson was never in danger of being canceled — there was no attempt or intent to quote-unquote ‘cancel’ him. He’s raised hundreds of thousands more dollars since this happened. The governor of Iowa declared a ‘Carson King Day.’”