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EDITORIAL Carson King controversy continues to reverberate

EDITORIAL Carson King controversy continues to reverberate


The Law of Unintended Consequences and its corollary, “No good deed shall go unpunished,” may have never been more evident than in the aftermath of Carson King’s request for beer money.

“Busch Light Supply Needs Replenishing — Venmo — Carson King-25,” read his sign on display at ESPN “College GameDay” in Ames prior to the Iowa-Iowa State football skirmish.

Who could have foreseen that the tote board would ring up $45,000 within five days, $270,000 after a week, and became a multi-million-dollar phenomenon when King committed the money to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital? Busch beer and Venmo were among the corporate contributors.

King, 24, was honored at a University of Iowa football game. Gov. Kim Reynolds declared Sept. 28 “Carson King Day.”

On the downside, another unintended consequence involves the fate of the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which was put at risk after the newspaper’s profile on King came to be perceived as akin to killing “Iowa Nice.”

RAGBRAI’s four-person marketing department resigned last week amid the backlash and announced its plans for an “Iowa Ride,” also at the end of July.

John Karras, 89, and the late Donald Kaul founded RAGBRAI in 1973 after proposing to do a series of articles while biking across the state. “The editor at the time said, ‘Why don’t you invite the readers to come along?’” Karras recalled. “I thought that was a stupid idea, then boom!”

If you invite them, they will come. The iconic event now attracts 10,000 registered riders annually from all 50 states and international participants.

Karras told KCCI in Des Moines he now is worried about RAGBRAI’s future. “I don’t know how there can be. I don’t see how the competition’s going to work.”

The catalyst was the profile of King by Des Moines Register reporter Aaron Calvin, who found “insensitive” social media posts that King, then 16, made with friends while referencing the Comedy Central show “Tosh.0.”

Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter explained, “(Calvin) asked King about them. King, to his credit, expressed immediate regret. … Register editors discussed at length whether to include information about the tweets and King’s remorse, but we were still editing the story when King talked to local TV stations. … We hadn’t yet published anything about his tweets when some people on media began accusing the Register of doing King wrong and ruining a potential opportunity to continue raising millions of dollars to help sick children.”

King survived unscathed, but the Register sustained self-inflicted wounds, appearing hypocritical when it was revealed Calvin also had racist and homophobic tweets in his background, which had escaped vetting. He was fired.

Hunter correctly stated that a good profile is more than just a Q&A. A reporter will seek information from those who know the individual and check public records. Celebrating an individual with a dubious background is another minefield.

But relevance also is in play. King had posted just three years ago, “Until we as a people learn that racism and hate are learned behaviors, we won’t get rid of it. Tolerance towards others is the first step.” That seemingly made his earlier transgressions moot.

Hunter may have added fuel to the fire, citing the possibility of misappropriated funds as a factor.

She cited “numerous cases nationally of fundraising for a person experiencing a tragedy that was revealed as a scam after media investigated the backgrounds of the organizer or purported victim,” she wrote, adding, “We have the obligation to look into matters completely, to aid the public in understanding the people we write about and in some cases to whom money is donated.”

The donation to the children’s hospital was beyond reproach.

TJ Juskiewicz, RAGBRAI marketing director for 16 years, said his staff resigned because of how the backlash was handled. He maintained the Register’s parent Gannett, which is in the procees of being acquired by GateHouse Media, “refused” to let him “answer the hundreds of passionate questions asked about the future of RAGBRAI.” Scripted responses were provided.

In November details will be announced about their ride across northern Iowa — two months ahead of RAGBRAI unveiling its route.

Whether the Juskiewicz group aims to save some semblance of a supposedly fatally wounded RAGBRAI or actually scuttle it as a matter of pique can’t be readily determined. Time will tell if RAGBRAI tradition trumps the rebel ride or if either survives. In the coming months, host sites and the biking community will choose sides.

Also at risk are the funds the RAGBRAI ride offers to about 20 charities who receive contributions on behalf of RAGBRAI, The Des Moines Register and Gannette Foundation.

We are sad to see it come to that. Whatever the Register’s perceived transgressions, RAGBRAI should not be sacrificed. Carson King learned from his mistakes. He also forgave the Register. Others associated with RAGBRAI should follow his lead and ride together again in tandem. Reconciliation is in order.



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