Despite Anheuser-Busch’s decision to cut ties with a serendipitous Children’s Hospital fundraiser who apologized for 8-year-old racist tweets unearthed by The Des Moines Register, Gov. Kim Reynolds has designated Saturday as “Carson King Day.”
“Volunteerism and selflessness defines Iowans by nature,” according to Reynolds’ proclamation, issued Wednesday afternoon. “Because in Iowa, individuals like Carson King demonstrate how Iowa Nice isn’t just a slogan, but our way of life.”
Praising the 24-year-old’s character, Reynolds acknowledged his efforts to raise $2 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital by the end of the month next week.
“The Carson King story embodies a young man’s ability to help a cause greater than himself and can serve as a model for others to follow,” the honor said.
King skyrocketed to fame after his Sept. 14 jocular appeal for beer money, which was captured and aired nationally on ESPN’s College GameDay. The stunt catapulted him into the spotlight when he redirected the donations from beer to the Children’s Hospital.
Only 10 days later, he proactively apologized for racist tweets he made in 2012. A reporter with The Register had confronted him about the tweets earlier in the day, and King came out ahead of the newspaper’s story with an apology.
“Eight years ago — when I was a sophomore in high school, I made some social media posts with my friends that quoted and referenced the show Tosh. O,” King said in a statement.
After being reminded of the comments, King said he reread them and understands they were “offensive and hurtful.”
“I am embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16 years old,” he said. “I want to sincerely apologize.”
King expressed gratitude for the passage of time, allowing high schoolers to “grow up and hopefully become responsible and caring kids.” While social media can inspire thousands to give to a good cause, he noted, it also can dredge up poor decisions from the past.
The outcry and support was widespread after The Register posted its story online Tuesday night characterizing King’s racist tweets.
Busch — which was making tallboy cans imprinted with King’s face and had promised a year’s supply to the Altoona man — cut ties, although vowed to honor its promise to match the more than $350,000 that had been raised to date.
“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,” according to a Busch statement.
But members of the public outraged by the takedown of the unexpected Iowa hero responded by digging into The Register reporter who wrote the story — finding offensive tweets from his past and calling for his firing.
That reporter, Aaron Calvin, since has deleted old tweets and protected his feed. The Register produced a statement from Executive Editor Carol Hunter and a separate explanation about how the newspaper had reported the King story.
As of 4 p.m., more than 13,000 people had commented on The Register’s Facebook post of the statement, with many slamming its decision to report King’s old tweets. About 130,000 people signed a petition calling for The Register to print a front-page apology.
As many called for the reporter’s firing, The Register also posted on Facebook that it’s investigating — although Hunter didn’t clarify what that entails.
“The Register is aware of reports of inappropriate social media posts by one of our staffers, and an investigation has begun,” the paper said.
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By Wednesday afternoon, national media including Fox News and The Washington Post had picked up the story about fallout from both King’s and Calvin’s past social media use.
Tens of thousands of people had unliked and unfollowed The Register on Facebook and Twitter, where readers also were calling for subscription cancellations.
Some were calling on other beer companies to pick up the endorsement. Geneseo Brewing Co. on Wednesday afternoon posted to Facebook a letter to King, praising his personal growth and coming out as “appalled” by the actions of The Register and Busch.
“We ... would like to continue your efforts by naming a new Pilsner ‘Iowa Legend’ and donating a dollar from every pint and 16-ounce can sold to your cause until the batch is sold out,” the Geneseo letter said.
In a statement on Twitter, Venmo — the digital platform on which King is raising the money — said it’s sticking to its promise to match money raised for the Children’s Hospital.
In addition to Reynolds, public officials like State Auditor Rob Sand chimed in, praising King’s “classy apology” and noting he’s glad he got King four tickets to this weekend’s Hawkeye game in Iowa City “to do the wave” to the nearby Children’s Hospital.
According to King’s Facebook page, the total — including corporate gifts and matches — was more than $1.13 million Tuesday morning. And gifts continued Wednesday, with comments like “Our past mistakes don’t define us” attached.
Michael Bugeja, an Iowa State University journalism professor whose research and published work focuses on media ethics, technology and social change, said King’s swift rise and fallout serve as a case study of today’s journalism landscape, which has come to operate by a familiar formula.
“Media build up a person from nothing to icon, chop him down, and then find a scapegoat,” Bugeja said. “That’s the result of a convention.”
The Register’s editors faced competing values of fairness, transparency and public service, according to Bugeja.
As for fairness, “the tweets have little to do with the content of the story. The content of the story was the donation to University Hospitals, and (the tweets) were done as a juvenile,” he said.
Regarding a journalistic public service ideology, he said, by publishing the tweets “you would inevitably do harm to the beneficiary of the generosity that was occurring — that would be the Children’s Hospital.
“On the other side, there’s the argument of transparency,” he said. “The tweets were public, and there’s public information — donors have a right to know.”
Throw in complicating factors like when the tweets were made — King was a juvenile — and, Bugeja said, “there’s no clear standard of how we all deal with that.”
But the collective media need to figure it out in this evolving interplay between social media and traditional media when an accelerated spread of information can turn anyone’s 15 minutes of fame into 15 minutes of infamy.
“I think the public has a right to be annoyed,” Bugeja said.
King didn’t return a call Wednesday from The Gazette. His dad, Mick King, said the family is “extremely proud” of how his son handled both the spotlight and the controversy.
“There is not a better kid on this Earth than my son Carson,” he said.
He said donations are continuing — even with Busch severing ties.
“But he’s going to continue with the fundraiser and making sure all the kids are taken care of.”