Des Moines Register: Are journalists their own worst enemies?

Reporter gets dismissed for racist tweets — after reporting on someone else’s racist tweets

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Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

newspaper I worked for made us sign agreements to not share politically leaning social media posts or blogs. It used to annoy me so much because I had plenty to say about politics from 2008 to 2013 — even more than I usually did for freelance assignments before and after that. But every blue moon I run into a news story that makes me slump my head and halfheartedly agree with why these contracts are necessary.

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Photo credit: USA-Reiseblogger/Pixabay

My grudging admission this time around goes to Aaron Calvin from the Des Moines Register. If you don’t know the story by now, let’s reverse back to Carson King’s love for Anheuser-Busch. On Sept. 14, King was at ESPN’s “College GameDay” event for Iowa vs. Iowa State football game. At Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa, King held up a sign that read: “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished ~ Venmo ~ Carson-King-25.”

Observers who saw the sign on television slowly started donating to the beer lover. By the time it reached $600, Busch Light and Venmo offered to match the total. Then other companies started donating their own funds. Instead of keeping all the money for what would be an endless amount of parties and refreshments, King is responsible for $1 million in donations going to the University of Iowa’s Stead Children’s Hospital.

Admirable, amiright? But what did he get in return for the donations? A reporter decided to do a deep dive into King’s tweets to highlight the offensive ones.

Call me naive, but I’m just not expecting a lot of wise words from teenagers. I’m fully prepared to brush off some not-so-great social media posts from anyone under 30. I’ll even admit to deleting a series of tweets defending R. Kelly during the 2008 trial after I saw “Surviving R. Kelly” — even though I’d befriended a reporter who was covering the trial. I still believed the man could be innocent. And I was 26 at the time. Eleven years later, I would happily muff the 11-year-younger version of myself for my naivete. So I can only imagine the kind of stupid comments I would’ve tweeted at 16. People make mistakes. People grow. People learn.

For someone like Botham Jean’s killer Amber Guyger, checking text messages and social media makes sense. For King, not so much.

But my bigger issue is what was the actual purpose of doing the deep dive into King’s tweets? Why even approve this pitch? For someone like Botham Jean’s killer Amber Guyger, checking text messages and social media makes sense. For King, not so much. The beer lover’s background is not significant to the point of the story. Why not do a deep dive into the actual hospital that King is donating to or the kids who would benefit from it? Personally, that is the more important story. But Des Moines Register disagreed.

What’s worse though is the reporter who wrote the story ended up being dismissed for his own offensive tweets. Dear Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle.

Twitter Detectives Incorporated wins again by digging up Calvin, the reporter’s, tweets.

And once again I’m wondering why in the world Calvin agreed to write the story of King’s teen tweets if he knew he had these kinds of 18-year-old thoughts displayed for all to see on Twitter. Maybe pitch the “top 10 beers” rundown instead of a “racist tweets from child hospital fundraiser” post, especially if you know you two could hold each other’s beer, trying to match whose tweets are more offensive.

Karma won. Calvin no longer works for the newspaper after his own questionable thoughts were published. Reporters are people, too. And as great as it would be for news publications — especially struggling news publications — to only have reporters with solid, squeaky clean backgrounds, chances of that happening are far slimmer. In the meantime though, maybe we should all do our own investigative reporting on our own backgrounds before we start writing about anyone else’s — me included.

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