Well, this is certainly a buzzkill.
Iowa resident Carson King went viral last week for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the University of Iowa’s Stead Children’s Hospital after holding up a sign on national TV asking for beer money. Companies like Anheuser-Busch /zigman2/quotes/209225053/composite BUD +9.66% and Venmo pledged to match the donations, which have topped more than $1 million.
But then the Des Moines Register dredged up a couple of racist tweets that King, now 24, had posted when he was 16, during what it described as a “routine background check” of the subject’s social media history. They included “one comparing black mothers to gorillas and another making light of black people killed in the Holocaust,” according to the paper.
King did not respond to a MarketWatch request for comment on Wednesday. He told the Register on Tuesday that the tweets are “not something that I’m proud of at all.” He also apologized in a press conference to local TV stations on Tuesday, saying, “I am embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16 years old.” He has since deleted the tweets, and shared his full mea culpa online:
Last week, King told MarketWatch about how he had held up the joke “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished” sign asking for people to Venmo him beer money during a University of Iowa vs. Iowa State football game. But after it got picked up by ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast, and donations started flooding in, he decided to do something more than buy a case of suds with the sudden windfall.
“It’s turned into something really cool, and a way to help families and to help the kids,” he said at the time. “It’s just incredible to see what kind of a difference you can make when people band together.”
But after news of King’s inappropriate tweets spread on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +8.12% and Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -1.10% on Tuesday, Anheuser-Busch announced in a statement that it will “have no further association” with him, although the brewer still promised to honor its donation pledge.
“Carson King had multiple social media posts that do not align with our values as a brand or as a company and we will have no further association with him,” reads the statement provided to MarketWatch. “We are honoring our commitment by donating more than $350,000 to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.” But giving King a year’s supply of free beer, or putting his face on future Busch Light cans, is now off the table.
Venmo, owned by PayPal /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL -0.45% , told MarketWatch by email that, “Venmo’s decision to match the money raised for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital was inspired by the kindness of the entire Venmo community and their desire to support a worthy cause. Our intent has never changed, and we continue to honor our pledge to support the patients, families and staff members of the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.”
Many on social media were more forgiving, however, with King supporters slamming the Register and Anheuser-Busch for holding the 24-year-old accountable for these posts, and potentially depleting how much money the children’s hospital will receive. So #standwithCarson was trending early Wednesday, especially after it was revealed that the Register reporter who wrote the King profile also has racist and inappropriate tweets in his online history, which included him repeatedly using the N-word.
The Register responded that it was investigating the reporter, Aaron Calvin, and backpedaled from being responsible for Busch severing its ties with King. A statement from the editor notes that King gave his mea culpa press conference before the Register story was even published.
But on Thursday night, the paper reported that it Calvin was “no longer with the paper,” and it is “revising its policies and practices” with employment, including those it says failed to uncover its own reporter’s questionable posts.
King himself tweeted support for the newspaper on Tuesday night, writing that it “has been nothing but kind in all of their coverage,” and that, “I appreciate the reporter pointing out the post to me.”