Iowa State Cyclones

Carson King fundraiser hits $2 million goal early

Reporter who wrote controversial profile no longer at Des Moines Register

Carson King poses Thursday with Gov. Kim Reynolds and a copy of the proclamation of “Carson King Day.” (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Carson King poses Thursday with Gov. Kim Reynolds and a copy of the proclamation of “Carson King Day.” (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — With three days still left to go, impromptu fundraiser Carson King’s campaign for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital on Friday already hit the $2 million goal he hoped to reach by the end of the month.

His effort started after a beer shortage during the annual Cy-Hawk football faceoff on Sept. 14 inspired his whimsical appeal for more Busch Light — which was caught on camera by ESPN’s College GameDay and aired nationwide.

King, 24, said Friday the fundraising total was rising fast.

That includes a $50,000 punch from the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, announced Friday morning after a week of controversy around the Register’s reporting on King prompted it to part ways with one reporter.

“We hear you. You’re angry. Here’s what we’re doing about it,” read the headline of an article from the Register’s Executive Editor Carol Hunter, explaining steps her company has taken in response to the outcry over the story — which pointed out that King had posted two racists tweets when he was 16 years old — and why it covered King the way it did. Readers took it upon themselves to look into the reporter’s social media posts, where they found he, too, had made problematic posts.

“For one, we’re revising our policies and practices, including those that did not uncover our own reporter’s past inappropriate social media postings,” Hunter wrote. “That reporter is no longer with the Register.”

That reporter, Aaron Calvin, was a “trending news” reporter for the Register and was assigned to profile King after the former Iowa State student rocketed into the national spotlight for redirecting money he had requested to buy more for Busch Light to the UI Children’s Hospital.

In the course of Calvin’s reporting, according to the Register’s timeline, he uncovered two racist tweets King made on social media about eight years ago and asked about them. King issued a public apology Tuesday after “one of those posts was brought to my attention by a member of the media.”

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Anheuser-Busch, which promised to match anything King raised for the Children’s Hospital, cut future ties with King that day, citing the tweets. The Register reported that happened before it published its story, and said its reporter didn’t alert Busch to the old comments.

King also said he didn’t notify Busch, and Busch officials haven’t disclosed how they learned of the tweets.

But the response across social media against The Register was nonetheless swift and harsh — with virtual sleuths digging into Calvin’s own social media use and outing past racist and homophobic remarks he made online.

Tens of thousands unliked or unfollowed The Register on Facebook and Twitter. Someone started a Shutdown the Des Moines Register Facebook page, many reporting canceling subscriptions and hoards called for Calvin’s ouster — accusing The Register’s editors of holding subjects of stories to higher standards than its own reporting staff.

“Until readers called to our attention some inappropriate posts from several years ago, The Register was unaware of them,” Hunter wrote.

Citing companywide values and a statement employees must sign prohibiting social media posts “that include discriminatory remarks, harassment, threats of violence or similar content,” Hunter said, “we took appropriate action.”

“There is nothing more important in journalism than having readers’ trust,” she wrote

Even as Busch cut any future ties with King and the Register faced mounting criticism, dozens of other companies came out in support of the Altoona man’s campaign, and thousands continued to give.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds declared Saturday to be “Carson King Day.” State Auditor Rob Sand said King will be at the Hawkeye football game in Iowa City to participate in “the wave” to kids in the Children’s Hospital.

Thursday evening, King posted a thank-you message online, expressing gratitude for small and big donors — including Busch and Venmo, the digital site on which he’s raising the money. Other corporate donors include Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel, where King works security.

“This is not about me,” he wrote. “This is about all of us. I am just overwhelmed that a sign that started as a joke will end up making such a meaningful impact for years to come.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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