As I noted earlier today, reporter Aaron Calvin was fired from his job at the Des Moines Register over some ugly past tweets. Those tweets were only noticed after Calvin wrote a story about Carson King for the Register in which he described a couple of racist tweets King had written eight years ago when he was sixteen. Now Buzzfeed has a new story up in which Calvin defends his reporting, retracts his apology, and blames what happened on “right-wing ideologues.”
Upon publishing the story, Calvin said he was immediately met with criticism from people across Iowa who accused him of trying to denigrate a local hero.
But any media ethics debate about the newsworthiness of tweets written by someone when they were a teenager was soon swept aside by a tidal wave of harassment, doxing, and death threats Calvin received.
I’m just going to stop there for a moment because that line in the last paragraph is such garbage. The question about whether or not tweets someone wrote at 16 belonged in a story about their generous philanthropy was the only issue. It was not swept away. And the fact that Calvin was harassed and threatened, which is obviously wrong, is not a reason to ignore all of the many people who didn’t make threats but nevertheless thought he and the Register had published the “news” about the tweets as clickbait. Buzzfeed’s effort to brush aside the only reason this person is even a story is pathetic.
Soon, influential right-wing media figures also began circulating screenshots of Calvin’s own past offensive tweets that had been uncovered. In posts dating back to 2010, Calvin had used “gay” as a pejorative, written “fuck all cops,” and spelled out the word “niggas” twice when he was quoting others, including a Kanye West lyric. “Now that gay marriage is legal,” he wrote in one 2012 tweet, “I’m totally going to marry a horse.”
Calvin told BuzzFeed News these were “frankly embarrassing” tweets that he “would not have published today,” but said they had been “taken out of context” and were being used to “wield disingenuous arguments against me.”
Yes, it’s really terrible that people would circulate old tweets you wrote when you were 18 or 19 years old. But again, no one cared about Aaron Calvin’s old tweets until he cared about Carson King’s old tweets. How can Calvin complain about being held to the same standard?
It briefly seemed as if Calvin did get it. He published a tweet apologizing for “not holding myself to the same high standards as The Register holds others.” But now he tells Buzzfeed, “I regret publishing that tweet now. Because I was never trying to hold Carson to any kind of ‘higher standard’ or any kind of standard at all. I was trying to do my job as a reporter, and I think I did so to the best of my ability.”
Standards? We don’t need no stinking standards! But back to the wrong done to Aaron Calvin:
“I recognize that I’m not the first person to be doxed like this — this whole campaign was taken up by right-wing ideologues and largely driven by that force,” he said.
Despite defending his inclusion of the subject of Carson King’s tweets, Calvin tells Buzzfeed he doesn’t support judging people based on old tweets: “As I said when I was speaking with Carson, I don’t think people’s past social media statements should be made to make blanket characterizations about them.”
I actually agree with this. What I don’t understand is how you can say this and, at the same time, think your job is to introduce this material into a profile of someone knowing what will happen when you do.
As to what drove this, it wasn’t the right-wing that fired Calvin, it was the Register. He wasn’t fired for what he wrote about Carson King but for what he tweeted. The right-wing didn’t make him tweet about hating cops, etc. Again, I don’t like the idea of anyone being fired or shamed over old, unrelated, out-of-context tweets, but by his own actions, Aaron Calvin is not in a good position to make the case those tweets shouldn’t count.
On a more positive note, Carson King has now raised $2 million for University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Good for him.