The King issue raises more than just money


The Stead Family Children’s Hospital was our place of residence for about three days last year.

Our daughter was found passed out in the hallway of her dorm at the University of Iowa and was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. She’d had it for years and we didn’t know. That’s not something for which a father ever forgives himself.

Chuck Vandenberg

But the facilities at that oblong, wave-recipient of a hospital are best in the nation. Our child was in the best place in the world. And we knew it.

The fact that the entirety of Kinnick Stadium turns on Saturdays throughout the fall and waves to those children is a wave at my daughter. The fact that Carson King’s sign has generated $2 million (as of Friday night) for that hospital is warming to say the least. Enough so that Governor Kim Reynolds made Saturday Carson King Day in Iowa.

But the whirlwind of King’s past three weeks has stirred up a sloppy, thick, and perplexing muck that has me thinking about how the premiere newspaper in Iowa is stuck defending itself…even today.

There’s substantial merit to those who say we’ve morphed into a society where journalism doesn’t just shoulder the burden of unearthing the grim and corrupt, but now we get after the less-than-perfect.

King retweeted some racist stuff as a 16-year-old from the raunchy Tosh.O show. I caught glimpses of the show at its prime and was left wanting to take a shower. Somewhat like Ridiculousness now. But there’s a market for everything and capitalistic minds capitalize.

But for me, I see a state that’s now advertising for a new “state beer”. Busch donated $350,000 ( a capped amount for sure, but also more than I have to donate…. definitely). Venmo is donating and the great people of the social media universe are donating. The end game is that goodness floats.

We forgive this man’s immaturity for something he did eight years ago because of something he’s doing now. That same tool of a civilized society should also be applied to Anheuser Busch for exercising extra caution in protectings its brand…and is should be applied to the Des Moines Register.

That kid, Aaron Calvin, was doing diligence on a story, a practice and habit that people of the WORLD have to come count on from journalists – digging into stories and revealing not just the truth….but the whole truth. Reputable accounts indicate he “no longer works for the publication” but if he was dismissed, it makes forgiveness of the company tougher for even me to swallow. The Executive Editor herself said a board convened to make a determination of whether the 8-year old tweets should be included in the piece. And they made the determination that it should be included buried at the bottom. I think that’s a shallow gesture because someone’s gonna read the whole thing…and someone’s gonna comment.

If that account holds true, his dismissal is him being thrown on the sword and that’s not acceptable. But if he left under his own accord, its easier to stand by the paper.

I still believe in my four decades or so of cynicism that there’s more to this story than has been totally revealed yet, but my bigger concern at the moment is what’s happening to society’s impression of journalism and the role of news reporting in our society.

As part of the news gathering community, even in our hyperlocal endeavor here, we make decisions every day on how much time and resources we commit to tips, requests, news stories, and other coverage.

No, as many people have messaged us and asked, we do not do regular background checks on sources in our stories. Where in the world would that time come from? You folks still think there’s two of me. BUT…we don’t own a five-story professional building staffed with everything we would need to do those background checks. If so, we probably would.

I’ve been in the Des Moines Register before and I’m pretty sure the reporter, who is a reputable reporter around the state, didn’t do a background check on my social media feeds. He wouldn’t have found anything because I typically don’t engage unless its for clarification. And when I was 16, the only phone we had had this wiggly cable attached to it that I regularly overstretched talking to girls until all hours of the night.

So my question in this piece is this… Where would you prefer us to stop?

It’s always been my philosophy that we peel the layers back, but how far is far enough? It’s also critical to remember this: we don’t print everything we hear. Not even close.

King went to social media for beer money and when it became more than he was expecting he decided he would donate the rest to the hospital with no clue at that point that Busch and Venmo were jumping on board. They did, and then it went viral and exploded. At that point, it’s not that big of a leap for a reporter who’s professionally trained to look at all angles of a story and to check out King’s other social media activity.

I’m a journalist, and admittedly am nowhere near qualified to pass judgment on that editorial board for printing the past King tweets. I wouldn’t have done it because the added editorial risk didn’t outweigh the value of the good deed. But this same journalist says there is no blame here, only the continued dismantling of the fourth estate in this country.

We are challenged to pursue unabated and with zeal, the truth in that which we report. That’s supposed to be our mission.

Corporations are gobbling up most of the newspapers in this country, sucking the life out of them through management fees and staff reductions, and leaving the dried fruit on the ground in hopes that someone local will pick it up with grand illusions of rebuilding it to greatness.

Now throw in social media culture dictating through what one publication called the “culture of cancellation” and you leave us wondering – what is it that you really want from us?

It’s pretty easy to copy and paste a press release…but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current

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