You’re probably already familiar with this latest front in the cancel culture wars. But here’s a brief summary for those who aren’t.
Last week, a man named Carson King was bombarded with contributions after he facetiously solicited beer money via poster on ESPN’s “College GameDay” show. He pledged to donate every dollar he received to a local children’s hospital. Anheuser-Busch and a group of local businesses also made donations to the hospital in King’s name. The joint effort resulted in over $1 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. If there ever were a story that was hard to ruin, this was it.
But the Des Moines Register just couldn’t help itself. Upon scouring the annals of King’s Twitter account (“a routine background check of King’s social media,” in their telling), a reporter named Aaron Calvin found two racially charged jokes the 24-year-old King’s made almost a decade ago, when he was 16.
The reporter’s own social media profile turned up offensive material as angry readers fought back against the Des Moines Register.
After initially clamming up, Carol Hunter, the Register’s Executive Editor, claimed that she heard the anger of the readers. But offered the same old defense.
Some of you wonder why journalists think it’s necessary to look into someone’s past. It’s essential because readers depend on us to tell a complete story.
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. 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. 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.
There have been numerous cases nationally of fundraising for a person experiencing a tragedy that was revealed as a scam after media investigated the backgrounds of the organizer or purported victim.
As journalists, we have the obligation to look into matters completely, to aid the public in understanding the people we write about and in some cases to whom money is donated.
There’s the condescension that everyone loves about the media.
King’s tweets from when he was 16 had nothing to do with whether his fundraising today was legitimate or not. It was not run because the Des Moines Register thought that it was financially relevant, but because we’re now punishing adults for stupid things they said as teens. Yearbooks are being used as evidence against senior citizens. And King had made some racist tweets when he was 16 and had to be punished for them today. Hunter and the Des Moines Register thought that her paper’s readers were stupid.
She still thinks that.
But the gaslighting isn’t working.