The Corner

Politics & Policy

On the Firing of Aaron Calvin

(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Remember Carson King? He raised over $1 million for a local children’s hospital after the facetious beer fund he started on ESPN’s “College GameDay” was swamped with contributions.

Remember Aaron Calvin? He was the reporter who wrote the now-infamous profile of Carson King in the Des Moines Register that mentioned vulgar tweets King sent out as a teenager — tweets that, without the profile, would have remained in obscurity.

Aaron Calvin lost his job this weekend. Why? Not for his decision to include King’s tweets in his profile, which, as Buzzfeed reports, he did “with the full blessing and awareness of senior editors.” No, Calvin was fired for old, allegedly insensitive tweets of his own, ones uncovered by furrowing Twitter users. Calvin claims the tweets were taken out of context. That’s rather quaint.

I feel for him, at least a little bit. I don’t take pleasure in a man losing his job, not even one whose ouster evokes as much schadenfreude as Calvin. But at risk of sounding like Clifford Geertz, Calvin’s firing is about more than just the firing itself. It asks and provides an answer to the question of whether the architects of “cancel culture” are subject to their own rules — or, put another way, whether you can cancel the cancellers.

Does Calvin’s reference to King’s adolescent tweets amount to “cancelling” him? I suppose not, in a strict sense — in that same Buzzfeed profile, Calvin adamantly insists that “Carson [King] was never in danger of being canceled.” But it’s hard to miss how intimately Calvin’s assumptions mirror the assumptions of those who would cancel King — his decision to highlight two obscure, inflammatory tweets from a man’s adolescence of a sentiment that Calvin admits are “not representative artifacts of” the man being profiled, is the sort of spiteful “gotcha” thinking devoid of proportion that fuels “cancel culture” writ large.

As I read Calvin’s profile in Buzzfeed, I found him less sympathetic. He blamed his firing, in part, on a “whole campaign … taken up by right-wing ideologues,” and compares his yoke to that which he alleges “women and journalists of color suffer all the time.”

It is strange to see Calvin take such umbrage at people who looked through his Twitter feed, exposed tweets from his past, and forced him to make public penance on their account. He said he apologized because he was “afraid and just trying to comply with what I was being told so I could possibly hold onto my job.” What is the difference between this and what Aaron Calvin did to Carson King?

Why Calvin would comment on the relative travails of “women and journalists of color” is an open question; though, come to think of it, Calvin is out of a job. And Buzzfeed is hiring.

What’s in-bounds for Aaron Calvin ought to be in-bounds for “right-wing ideologues.” If the corporate pressure exerted upon Calvin made him “afraid,” he ought to consider the merits of being so parsimonious with the adolescent missteps of others. I don’t think Calvin should have been fired. But if ill-considered tweets from years ago are so important as to merit mention in the profile of an unassuming, charitable man, why shouldn’t Calvin’s employer treat them with similar gravity?

Or: Both sides could forswear this catty behavior. Which would be my preference.

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