Reporter who drew ire over man’s decade-old tweets loses job

Aaron Calvin (Photo: LinkedIn)

A reporter has lost his job after becoming embroiled in a controversy over years-old social media postings.

Aaron Calvin stoked the ire of hundreds of social media users this week after he unearthed two perceived-racist posts made on Twitter by a 24-year-old man nearly a decade ago.

That man, Calvin King, was thrust into the spotlight after holding a sign at a recent college football game asking people to donate money to him so he could buy Busch Light, a type of beer. The sign was aired by ESPN and went viral, turning King into a local media sensation.

King received thousands of dollars in donations. He gave the cash to a local children’s hospital, prompting InBev, the parent company of Busch Light maker Anheuser Busch, and payment processor Venmo to match donations.

While covering King’s charitable givings, Calvin — who worked as a “trending reporter” for the Des Moines Register newspaper — conducted what the news organization called a “routine background check.” The check involved sifting through years of King’s tweets, including some he posted as a teenager.

The newspaper said it mentioned the tweets at the bottom of a story on King after wrestling with the decision on whether or not to include them.

Angry social media users called out Calvin and the Register, pointing to some of the reporter’s own tweets he had written in the past that were far worse than what King had posted. Those tweets included a comparison of gay marriage to bestiality and a tweet that expressed a desire to read sex scenes to high schoolers.

Calvin published the tweets while working for BuzzFeed and Storyful, according to a comparison of the social media posts and a resume reviewed by The Desk.

On Thursday, the Gannett-owned newspaper announced it had conducted a background check into Calvin as part of the organization’s vetting process but had failed to properly scrutinize Calvin’s social media postings from years ago.

The Register said it would be reviewing “our screening policy and social media vetting for employees.” It was not immediately clear if the policy would apply only to new applicants or if current employees would also be screened.

In addition to the vetting process, the Register said it would review its policy over background information of subjects of stories, including “acts committed by juveniles and to the newsworthiness of that information years later.”

“The Register had no intention to disparage or otherwise cast a negative light on King,” executive editor Carol Hunter wrote.

Calvin’s firing resolves one element of anxiety in a newsroom that has experienced a sharp increase of tension over the last week brought on by the King profile and Calvin’s own tweets.

After Calvin’s tweets came to light, newsroom staff were divided over whether the reporter should be fired for tweets he posted years ago — though, unlike King, Calvin was an adult at the time — when he was not employed by the Register.

Others, including Register News Director Paige Windsor, were supportive of Calvin and his reporting. The Desk noticed Windsor “liking” several tweets in defense of the reporter and his reporting late Tuesday evening, and Windsor indirectly backed Calvin shortly after the newspaper announced he had been fired.

“People have to actually want the truth,” she wrote. “Pitchforks are handier.”