An Iowa reporter is under investigation by the newspaper where he works after social media users began surfacing numerous controversial tweets he posted while working at other news outlets.
Between 2011 and 2015, Aaron Calvin, a “trending” reporter at the Des Moines Register, made numerous comments involving children, sex, animals and gay people. More than once, he also used a racial slur in Twitter responses directed at other people.
In April 2013, when Calvin was working as an intern for BuzzFeed, he tweeted that he wanted to “grow up and read sex scenes to high schoolers.” In 2016, while working as a content strategist for News Corporation-owned Storyful, he tweeted “fuck the NYPD” in response to a story from The Root on a rapper who was arrested on drug charges.
Though none of the comments reviewed by The Desk appeared to have been posted while King worked at the newspaper, a Des Moines Register editor said he was under “investigation” after social media users began surfacing them on Tuesday.
Angry social media users began digging into Calvin’s background after he penned a reporter on a 24-year-old local celebrity who raised more than $1 million for a children’s hospital.
Carson King became a local television sensation after holding up a sign at a football game asking people to donate money to his beer fund.
Not one to miss out on an opportunity for good press, Anheuser Busch decided to ride the good vibe wave, offering to make donations of its own to the hospital. Venmo, a payment processing company owned by Paypal, made a similar offer.
King went on to raise more than $1 million for the hospital. At some point, Calvin decided to “dig” into King’s past — something the newspaper said was a “routine background check” — and found two social media posts that Calvin and the newspaper deemed to be racist.
The newspaper, owned by Gannett Company, said it knew King’s posts were made almost a decade ago when he was a minor, and that the staff wrestled with the decision to include them in coverage.
“Should we chalk the posts to a youthful mistake and omit the information?” editor Carol Hunter questioned. Ultimately, the paper decided to include them toward the end of an article on King after learning a local TV station planned to use them in its own reporting.
Anheuser Busch later severed ties with King. The man apologized for the posts he made as a teenager.
On Tuesday, Calvin also apologized for the posts he made years ago — some of which were made around the same time as King’s — saying they did not live up to the newspaper’s standards. He locked his Twitter account a few hours later.
Since then, pundits have said the Register case serves as the latest example of “cancel culture” that has cross-contaminated the industries of social media and journalism — one that is having real consequences for ordinary people who are being held to account for things they did years into their past. Writing for Reason.com, Christian Britschgi said:
The fact that both King and the reporter writing about him had offensive tweets in their past should hopefully serve as a lesson: Everyone who’s grown up with social media has posted content they regret and that doesn’t necessarily reflect on their present-day values or beliefs. Even progressive New York Times staffers have managed to slip up.
Treating a person’s most intemperate tweets as worthy of public shame is an exercise in hypocrisy. What’s worse is that we have graduated from using social media history as a way of divining a person’s true nature to deploying that history cynically and maliciously, and in this case, to simply including a person’s dumbest posts as a matter of routine: “Age, name, dumbest thing they’ve said online that we can find.” Journalists can and should do better.
Will they? That question remains to be answered.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously identified Aaron Calvin as a journalist in both the headline and the opening paragraph. Calvin is a reporter, not a journalist.