Jay Lenkersdorfer

Iowa State college student, Carson King, had a need and he used his wit to fill it. Several weeks ago, the ESPN Game Day broadcast was on the Iowa State Campus to cover the Iowa/Iowa State football rivalry. The television coverage creates a huge interest with fans who do their best to get on TV to show their school spirit. King demonstrated his spirit by creating a simple poster he could hold over his head, hoping to get noticed.

“Bush Light Supply Needs Replenished,” the sign read, and at the bottom he printed his Venmo account where people could send him money. Venmo is an electronic currency website where people can exchange money back and forth without any hassle.

What started as a laugh, and a desire to raise a few bucks from Iowa State fans who could relate to King’s beer supply problem, became a lesson in kindness, generosity, jealousy and over reaching newspaper journalists who took something very good, even beautiful in the eyes of most, and turned it into scandal.

The beer money trickled in at first, with strangers donating $5 and $10 to his account. By the end of the first day the pledges totaled more than $1,000, plenty to satisfy his beverage supply problem, so King announced that anything over the cost of a single case of Bush Light would be donated to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. That small shift in purpose quickly shifted his fundraising effort into overdrive with the message going viral.

Within a few days King had received a pledge from the brewers of Bush Light to match the funds he was able to raise. Venmo saw this as an opportunity to bring attention to its product and also agreed to match the funds being raised. The bottom line was simple, King, in just over one week, had raised one million dollars for the children’s hospital.

This is just one example of why people call Iowa nice, a cultural label used to describe the stereotypical attitudes and behaviors of residents within the state of Iowa, particularly in terms of the friendly agreeableness and emotional trust shown by individuals who are otherwise strangers.

My grandfather was born and raised in Iowa and my family was privileged to have lived in Iowa for four years prior to moving to Idaho. I have seen “Iowa nice” first-hand and it is everything it is hyped up to be. In the weeks prior to my family joining me in Iowa, I had a chance to travel to many of the small Iowa towns around Muscatine where the newspaper I would be working at was located.

At one small town named Wapello, which is about the size of Declo, I stumbled onto a little town celebration. I can’t remember what they were celebrating but I will never forget the feeling I had as I wandered around. That night, as I was sitting in my hotel room, I recall thinking that I must have looked like an idiot to those small-town residents as I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The stereotype of a rural Iowa town was exactly what I encountered. The people were dressed casually, just as if they had worked the farm that morning and had gone directly to the town celebration. Men were in bib overalls, women in sun dresses or jeans, and every child could have come directly out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Carson King, the college student behind the beer money sign, was a genuine product of the state of Iowa. He lived an Iowa nice life. Had this same experience happened in California I would doubt that the student would be so generous with the proceeds. But leave it to the Des Moines Register, the state newspaper, to find a way to taint this beautiful story.

Not able to let a positive story stand on its own merits, a newspaper reporter dug into King’s past, finding a couple of posts he made as a 16-year-old high school student. The posts were off color and clearly inappropriate but were the product of a kid. The Des Moines Register printed their feel-good story but tainted it with what they had dug up from the kid’s social media account. The result tarnished King’s image and lead to Bush Beer severing all contact with him.

As you might guess, Carson King was embarrassed that his actions as a young student had been exposed. He apologized and the posts from long ago were removed from his account. Even after the controversy, Iowa’s Governor proclaimed September 28th as Carson King day, noting that Iowa nice isn’t just a slogan for King, it is a way of life.

There are two points I would like to make. The first is this – why do we assassinate an individual’s reputation over youthful mistakes? Should Mr. King have resisted passing along jokes his prepubescent brain clearly hadn’t told him not to? It goes to show that there is little tolerance for mistakes of youth. How I wish we could dig into the reporter’s past and reveal every mistake she had made, but that would only prove that kids do dumb things.

The second point is this. There has got to be a shift in the way our media covers the news. A donation now exceeding $2,200,000 to a children’s hospital is a fantastic story and demonstrates that Iowa nice really does exist. Sadly, media mean also exists and too often results in a beautiful thing being turned into something negative, but to what purpose? Is it any wonder that newspapers across America are in decline? How I wish it were different because there is so much good that can and should come from stories like Carson King. We simply need to allow the good news, the good deeds to stand on their own merits and leave the mistakes of youth to stay in the past.

Epilog: It should be reported that someone looked into the reporters past, which revealed inconsistencies and lead to her termination from the newspaper. Karma?

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