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GROB: Carson King reporter wrote the wrong article

By James Grob,

Social media giveth, and social media taketh away.

Carson King said it himself. “Social media … has the power to bring people together for the common good. It also can make your life very public.”

King’s the guy who turned a joke about needing money for more Busch Light into a million dollar fundraiser for the Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. He became an overnight sensation, and for a few hours there, he may have been the most popular guy in the state of Iowa. Maybe he still is. I love the guy.

GROB: Carson King reporter wrote the wrong article
James Grob

And the whole thing is a lot like when you fall in love at first sight. You’re infatuated with the girl (or guy). You believe with all your heart that she’s perfect for you.

Then, you get to know her.

You find out some things that crush you. Maybe she’s an idiot. Maybe she hates “Star Wars” movies. Maybe she has intolerable body odor. Maybe she’s already happily married to some guy who now wants to beat the heck out of you.

Whatever it is, you realize that your one and only true love is not perfect for you — and might be far from it.

Your heart is broken, and you’re angry. You look for someone or something to blame, and you lash out.

That’s what a lot of people are doing right now — they are lashing out at the Des Moines Register, and lashing out at the reporter who looked into King’s background for an article.

The article, taken as a whole, is a very positive portrayal of King and his life leading up to the last week or so, when he became a fundraising phenomenon. King himself said that the Des Moines Register treated him fairly.

Dropped into the article, near the very end, are some things that crushed us.

Apparently, when King was 16 years old, he tweeted some racist and offensive things. I thank the Good Lord daily that there was no such thing as social media when I was 16 years old. Man, did I say and do some stupid things when I was that age. I definitely would have been dumb enough to put those stupid things on social media. I would be doomed.

In King’s case, these revelations resulted in Anheuser-Busch cutting off its ties with him, although it will still honor its agreement to match the charitable contributions raised to this point.

As a reporter, editor and media guy for the last 35 years, I question the Des Moines Register’s editorial judgment here. There was no need for that kind of scrutiny in this case. King is not running for public office, he’s raising money to help sick children. Who cares if he repeated some racist jokes when he was 16? That was then, this is now, he’s changed as a person. It doesn’t seem relevant to the article.

But, at the same time, the Des Moines Register wasn’t really going out of its way to dig up dirt here. It’s not at all unusual to check the social media background of anyone a reporter is writing about. When you’re writing a profile feature like this one, you look up everything you can. Writers research things, it’s why they’re writers.

The tweets were still available for all to see on social media. There was no need to dig. Sooner or later, someone else would have found them and smeared King with them, it just so happens that the Register saw it first. I don’t like it, but I understand a reporter and an editor not wanting to ignore it.

Let me put something out there, though. What if that reporter had taken a different angle? Rather than just drop that negative information in there for our consideration, how about writing a story about how a person can change for the better?

King said stupid and terrible things when he was a kid. Now, he’s changed, and he’s doing clever and wonderful things. He’s raised a million dollars to help kids with cancer, and he’s still going strong.

That could be a great story, something of a morality tale, with lessons to enlighten the readers. I would have loved to have gotten the chance to write that article, and so would most of the reporters I know. That’s pure gold.

Of course, writing a story like that also takes a little more hard work and a little more talent.

And hard work and talent appear to be in short supply right now in the Des Moines Register newsroom.