If you're just hearing about this story, allow me to bring you up to speed: Two weeks ago, a young man named Carson King attended a live taping of ESPN's signature Saturday pre-game show, 'College Gameday' -- during which football fans wave homemade signs for the cameras. King made a sign that informed viewers that his Busch Lite beer supply needed to be replenished, furnishing his Venmo account, at which people could send him beer money. It went viral and took off, with cash pouring in from strangers all over the country. Realizing that he could not in good conscience use the skyrocketing sum of money for alcohol, King decided to announced that he would donate the proceeds to an Iowa hospital. This act of decency and generosity caught the attention of Anheuser-Busch, which offered a matching program on the donations., which soared past $1 million in total All in all, it was a feel-good story.
The Des Moines Register decided to cover the happy developments, which took a decidedly unhappy turn after the reporter scoured King's old tweets, flagging two postings from 2012 -- when King was a high school sophomore -- that reportedly entailed racist or racially insensitive content. An embarrassed and contrite King says they were inspired by a comedy TV show at the time. The journalist (Aaron Calvin, formerly of Buzzfeed) told his editors about his discovery, and the paper decided that the tweets were somehow relevant to the story. Calvin confronted King with the information, prompting King to issue a pre-emptive public apology:
It was just 10 days ago that I was a guy in the crowd holding a sign looking for beer money on ESPN Game Day. Since then – so much has happened. Especially when I announced all of the money would be donated to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. Thousands of people have donated and today the account is at 1.14 million dollars. Much of this has happened thanks to social media – it has the power to bring people together for a common good. It also can make your life very public. And that is why I wanted to share with you that 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.0. One of those posts was brought to my attention by a member of the media today. I had no recollection of it. In re-reading it today – eight years later – I see it was an attempt at humor that was offensive and hurtful.
I am so embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16 years old. I want to sincerely apologize. Thankfully, high school kids grow up and hopefully become responsible and caring adults. I think my feelings are better summed up by a post from just 3 years ago: "Until we as a people learn that racism and hate are learned behaviors, we won’t get rid of it. Tolerance towards others is the first step." -- July 8, 2016 I am sharing this information tonight because I feel a responsibility to all of the people who have donated money. I cannot go back and change what I posted when I was a 16-year-old. I can apologize and work to improve every day and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. And, I am so very thankful for the generosity of the thousands of people who have donated to our fundraising push for the Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
This thoughtful commentary about ancient tweets dredged up from the first half of his high school career was not sufficient for Anheuser Busch, which publicly declared it was severing ties with King. 'Cancel culture' had struck again. This development precipitated a furious backlash against the newspaper, which released a statement defending its actions, calling the social media spelunking a "routine background check." The DMR's executive editor wrote that the team determined that the years-old tweets were relevant and would be included in the story, then tried to sprinkle some blame onto King's decision to get out in front of the controversy, as if the paper wasn't responsible for what happened. Critics were understandably unimpressed. Anti-'cancel culture' warriors began reviewing the Twitter timeline of Calvin in a retaliatory fashion, uncovering insensitive and 'problematic' tweets he'd written over the years. Calvin dashed off an apology, began deleting old tweets, and eventually made his entire account private. The DMR announced an investigation into Calvin over the matter. Last night, the axe came down:
King gets shamed and dropped by Busch, then Calvin gets fired amid the backlash. Good work, everyone. The newspaper, which apparently is not holding its editors responsible for their own terrible decisions in this episode, has apparently learned nothing. The lesson is not to fire Calvin; the lesson is to resist the awful, soul-crushing excesses of cancel culture. To discern that a do-gooder's stupid high school mistakes aren't newsworthy years later. And to implement policies that discourage the sort of "journalistic" seek-and-destroy missions that harmed both young men in this case. I loathe this cultural phenomenon. I find it especially obnoxious that many journalists seem to believe they belong in a protected class when it comes to the outrage wars they help fuel. I dislike efforts to weaponize 'canceling' against the cancelers, yet I fully understand the impulse; turnabout is fair play, etc. 'Cancel culture' is out of control and making our collective existence worse. People who believe in grace should fight it. I'll leave you with a supreme irony, courtesy of Calvin's own Twitter feed:
A young Des Moines Register reporter retweeted Osita Nwanevu's article about how cancel culture isn't real and shortly thereafter got fired for offensive tweets he did like 8 years ago pic.twitter.com/tNITE9RlGN— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) September 27, 2019
I believe the phrase is, "life comes at you fast."