Iowans’ defense of Carson King beats offensive media

Old tweets should not detract from the good the charity organizer has done.

Jason O'Day, Columnist

The backlash against Anheuser-Busch and the Des Moines Register has been fierce. Fellow Iowans blew up my social-media news feeds last week with memes defending Carson King. Gov. Kim Reynolds invited King to the State Capitol, took a selfie with him, and declared Sept. 28 as “Carson King Day.”

To recap, King has now raised more than $2 million since his poster asking for beer money went viral, and he pledged to donate excess funds to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Social media has given King a roller-coaster ride over the past couple weeks. Busch and Venmo vowed to match the donations, and Busch Light even made cans with his face on them.

After two controversial tweets resurfaced from his sophomore year of high school, Anheuser-Busch abruptly cut ties with King. While the tweets were indeed offensive, digging through social media to find dirt on others is destructive. It also poses an indirect threat to free speech.

The Register reporter who muckraked the years-old tweets, Aaron Calvin, was fired after his own racist tweets were discovered. Calvin blamed “right-wing idealogues” for his termination in an interview with BuzzFeed News. He compared his struggles with those of black and female journalists.

Calvin may be a bad actor, but he isn’t the real problem. The larger issue is that multiple editors above him deemed it necessary to publicize ancient tweets, even though King had immediately and emphatically apologized for them. 

A statement from Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter stated that King’s press conference to address the social-media posts was called before the news outlet published any of the content Calvin found. However, King never would have had to publicly address those old remarks had he not been prompted to respond to the reporter’s questions. 

Journalists have an occupational duty to minimize harm and focus their spotlights on that which is newsworthy. The Register failed to meet both of those standards Sept. 24.

“They were really quick to judge his character by a statement he made that mimicked a popular TV show when he was 16,” Glenn Cole, head brewer at Geneseo Brewing Company, told WQAD

The company partnered with Carson on a $5 beer called the Iowa Legend. Those limited-edition beers sold out quickly, and $1 from each went to the Children’s Hospital. That sort of charity is an undeniable good and didn’t need to be hindered.

What’s more is that King was a private citizen when he was 16 years old. Although he’s gained notoriety, he remains a private citizen. It’s not as if he’s an elected official who serves the public and is paid with taxpayer dollars; all of King’s public notoriety has been built in less than a month.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Calvin’s digging led to something potentially newsworthy. Imagine that King had spent his teenage years in a skinhead neo-Nazi group, but had since experienced a change of heart. Now, our hypothetical friend is living differently, trying to leave those old hateful ways behind him.

Would he deserve to have a major newspaper unleash that dirt into the public square for the entire world to scrutinize? I say no.

The puritanical media practice of scouring the internet for career-ending information destroys the reputations of people who’ve made mistakes and spent years trying to rectify them. Americans cherish their First Amendment right to free speech, and this type of cancel culture hinders the ability to exercise that freedom candidly.

One silver lining is that I’ve never seen such unified opposition to almost anything. Most people recognize how embarrassing it would be if a news outlet put their pasts under a microscope. 

The most important part of all of this is that there are so many children with disabilities and illnesses who will have a better quality of life for a long time thanks to King’s creative philanthropy. He has proven through his actions to be a kind and selfless man with nothing but kind words for Anheuser-Busch and the Register.