Paper Damaged Carson King — And Its Brand
You might remember the controversy when the Des Moines Register surfaced a couple of obnoxious racist tweets that 24-year-old Carson King had sent when he was 16. King had become a kind of goofy populist star after a sign he held up on ESPN asking for beer money landed him a contract to promote Busch Light, his favorite brand. He was using his fame to raise millions for an Iowa children’s hospital. The paper was doing a profile of him, and its reporter went digging into all his past tweets, finally finding some incriminating ones that were eight years old, and written when he was a high school kid, quoting a comedy TV show.
Carson apologized for them, and said he had changed. But it was too late: Anheuser-Busch cut him off, though it agreed to honor its pledge to the children’s hospital. King’s name was ruined — or so it seemed.
But Iowans responded quite differently. They believed — correctly! — that King had been treated badly by the Register, and they raised hell about it. The Iowa governor declared September 28 “Carson King Day” to show solidarity with the young man. As I wrote here, it turns out that the Javert-like SJW reporter who trashed King had himself tweeted vile things in his teenage years, and lost his job because of it. The people of Iowa remain angry at the paper.
A rift over the Des Moines Register’s handling of the Carson King story has led to the resignation of the entire staff of the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa from the newspaper, effective immediately.
In a Tuesday post on RAGBRAI’s Facebook page, TJ Juskiewicz said the Register, “refused to offer me the opportunity to openly speak to the RAGBRAI Nation, and answer the hundreds of passionate questions asked about the future of RAGBRAI following the Des Moines Register’s handling of the Carson King story.”
Juskiewicz said his efforts to communicate with riders were blocked because “it did not mesh with the company’s PR narrative to spin the Carson King embarrassment.”
Juskiewicz says he was told the Register’s leadership, and public relations professionals “don’t want to issue any more public statements on this matter”.
But, Juskiewicz said the Register offered him “talking points for interviews regarding RAGBRAI if the Carson King situation comes up.”
So, 16-years after taking the job as RAGBRAI’s executive director, Juskiewicz, and his staff resigned.
“I can no longer be an effective leader when my principles are compromised by the leadership of Gannett/Des Moines Register,” said Juskiewicz
RAGBRAI was founded in 1973 by John Karras and Donald Kaul.
The seven-day, cross-state bicycle ride across Iowa is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world.
But get this — they re-formed to sponsor the same week-long charity bike ride, without any connection to the newspaper. It’s now called “Iowa’s Ride”.
What a spectacular self-destruction of one’s own brand the Des Moines Register has pulled off. I’m so encouraged to see the people of Iowa responding like this, giving the media comeuppance.
UPDATE: Reader Paul Gregory just posted:
The paper has announced that they will proceed with their event as scheduled, without the staff who resigned, who had run the event for the last 16 years. I expect they will hire a New York-based public relations agency to handle the schedule and logistics, making detailed arrangements, including sleeping arrangements for 10,000 riders, with all the small towns along the route from Council Bluffs to Keokuk. Should go just fine.
UPDATE.2: A reader who is a cyclist e-mails:
Hard to understand how much of a coup this is unless you know how RAGBRAI works and how big a deal it is. There’s a lottery system to figure out who actually gets to register in the event of the ride filling up – some years it does, some years it doesn’t. IR is doing away with that entirely, no lottery at all – if you want to ride you’re going to ride. That’s not as big a deal as it seems, I’ve seen figures implying that only about 75% of riders actually register, but you do need to register if you want to use RAGBRAI’s support buses. Registration for riders at IR is $25 cheaper, RV registration is $25 cheaper, and car registration is $15 cheaper too. That’s not enough to matter to a lot of people, but it’s not nothing.
IR is also scheduled for the exact same week as RAGBRAI but has said it’s announcing its route in November as opposed to January. That’s really big for anyone who plans to be there, especially people driving or flying in from out of state and for vendors who plan to set up along the route.
Basically, RAGBRAI has to put together a whole new staff and get a ride planned by January in the shadow of one that’s cheaper, has been planning the split for a while (I saw one source that said the IR domain was registered two weeks before today), has had a route for two months already, and almost certainly will have better logistics because it’s planned by people whose main experience is planning the largest cycling event in the northern hemisphere. If IR 2020 goes well, the host cities at the end of each day cooperate with the change, enough of the clubs that sign up en masse switch over, and RAGBRAI sees both falling registration and a poor experience for the riders I can easily see RAGBRAI not existing in 2021. Will RAGBRAI 2020 be a Fyre Festival-level debacle? I don’t think so, but it could happen.
Check out this video too. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale of it all unless you see the crowd sizes.