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RAGBRAI event staff resigns in dispute with Des Moines Register

Published October 15, 2019
The staff, including director TJ Juskiewicz, disagreed with the newspaper's stance on fundraiser Carson King, who made racially insensitive comments when he was 16. The staff said it will launch its own event next year.

DES MOINES, Iowa (BRAIN) — The staff that produces The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa has resigned over a decision by the event's owner — Gannet-owned daily Des Moines Register — to prevent event staff from speaking their minds about the paper's handling of a story. The staff members, including director TJ Juskiewicz, say they will launch a new event, Iowa's Ride. Iowa's Ride is scheduled for the same week as RAGBRAI next summer.

RAGBRAI is said to be the world's largest bike tour event, with about 10,000 participants each of its seven days. 

Last month, during a national TV broadcast of the Iowa-Iowa State football game, King raised a sign asking for beer money, a stunt that led to raising more than $1 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Anheuser-Busch’s and Venmo offered to match the donations, bringing the total raised to $3 million. But the beer company later cut its ties with the campaign after a Register reporter unearthed tweets King had published eight years ago, when he was 16, that were racially insensitive. The paper was accused of "journo-terrorism" for exposing the old tweets and the reporter left the paper after his own unsavory old tweets were uncovered

RAGBRAI's owners announced the event was going to donate $50,000 to King’s efforts, which generated a backlash toward the event. The donation was announced with a Sept. 27 statement on the RAGBRAI website, over Juskiewicz's name. 

But in a statement this week, Juskiewicz explained that he was offended by the paper's attempt to stop him from communicating with event participants, who he called "RAGBRAI Nation."

"RAGBRAI’s parent companies (Des Moines Register & Gannett/USA Today) claim 'we will uphold First Amendment principles,' but they refused to offer me that same 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 in the statement.

"I have always been totally transparent with the RAGBRAI Nation and have earned their trust since my first day in 2003. In these past few weeks, my efforts to communicate with our loyal riders has been consistently blocked as it did not mesh with the company’s PR narrative to spin the Carson King embarrassment. There are hundreds of questions that have been left unanswered in an attempt to save face for the Register, without regard to how it affects RAGBRAI."

Juskiewicz's statement was briefly posted on the RAGBRAI website before being taken down. It was repeated on a Facebook group page

The staff is planning to hold Iowa's Ride July 19-25, 2020. It will benefit a children's hospital in Iowa City. A Register spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the paper still planned to hold RAGBRAI that same week.

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