Lord Macaulay once observed that the men of his time were “not to be converted or perverted by quartos.” Were he still around today and haunting another (former) British colony, he would be shocked to know how easily its men were “converted or perverted” by the 280-character digital missteps of teenagers.
Last week, a man named Carson King was bombarded with contributions after he facetiously solicited beer money via poster on ESPN’s “College GameDay” show. He pledged to donate every dollar he received to a local children’s hospital. Anheuser-Busch and a group of local businesses also made donations to the hospital in King’s name. The joint effort resulted in over $1 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. If there ever were a story that was hard to ruin, this was it.
But the Des Moines Register just couldn’t help itself. Upon scouring the annals of King’s Twitter account (“a routine background check of King’s social media,” in their telling), a reporter named Aaron Calvin found two racially charged jokes the 24-year-old King’s made almost a decade ago, when he was 16. Toward the bottom of Calvin’s profile of King was this sniveling little section:
A routine background check of King’s social media revealed two racist jokes, one comparing black mothers to gorillas and another making light of black people killed in the holocaust. The joke tweets date back to 2012, when King was a 16-year-old high school student. When asked about the tweets, King was remorseful and thanked the Register for pointing them out, saying they made him “sick.” He has since deleted them.
“That’s not something that I’m proud of at all,” he told the Register during the day Tuesday.
Tuesday evening, King spoke to local television stations about the now-deleted tweets.
“I am embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16-year-old,” he said in a statement posted by WHO-TV. “I want to sincerely apologize.”
Do I think King’s jokes are funny? No. Do I think they were made in good taste? No. Do I think decent people ought to make such racially inflammatory jokes, particularly in public? No.
But I do think King was 16. And I likewise think that Aaron Calvin’s desperate foray through a man’s tweets, dredging up material from his adolescence, effectively forcing him to go on a ritual apology tour — to say nothing of the Register’s subsequent insistence upon including all of this in their profile — is contemptible, schoolmarmish behavior.
But ostentation, in the words of that old American clergyman, is the signal flag of hypocrisy. Those given to such things poured through Calvin’s own Twitter feed, subjecting the journalist to much the same scurrilous goose chase to which he had subjected Carson King. They — of course! — found Calvin had a sordid digital history of his own; the Washington Post reported that “between 2010 and 2013, Calvin published tweets that used a racist slur for black people, made light of abusing women, [and] used the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative.”
In the Register’s internal deliberations over the propriety of highlighting two obscure racist jokes King made almost a decade ago, editors insisted that “all the people who had donated money to King’s cause or were planning to do so” had an interest in knowing about his adolescent tweets. Perhaps those who would otherwise donate to the hospital in Calvin’s name would rethink their generosity once they discovered that he tweeted two naughty jokes as a teenager.
Rubber, meet road: What does the Register plan to do with Aaron Calvin?
I’m not calling for him to be fired, because I’m not the miserable sort of person who takes an ordinary man’s tweets from his childhood and insists upon including them in my profile of him, obscuring what is an otherwise valiant act of generosity. But I do suspect that Aaron Calvin wishes he took a different tack.