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The Washington Post’s New Hire Shows Media Will Never Hold Themselves Accountable

Should we even care that The Washington Post’s new opinion editor is a walking journalism scandal?

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So The Washington Post just announced they hired Alexi McCammond to be a new opinion editor. Having any idea who Alexi McCammond is, much less caring about her, is exactly the kind of political inside baseball I don’t expect anyone to know. I do this stuff professionally, and the news business has been so dispiriting for so long that I don’t remember when my professional duty to keep up with developments in the news business started to resemble rubbernecking.

But if you’re looking for a tale of why the media establishment deserves every ounce of righteous anger you can muster — these stories are not in short supply, I know — it’s hard to top the continued professional failing upward of Alexi McCammond.

So here’s the whirlwind recap: McCammond arrived on everyone’s radar as a plucky young reporter covering Democrats for Axios. She started covering Biden’s presidential campaign, where she met Biden campaign press secretary T.J. Ducklo, and shortly after Ducklo was diagnosed with lung cancer in December of 2019, she was driving him to his treatments. “When TJ was diagnosed … I had a sense then how much he meant to me,” McCammond said.

The details of how and when the relationship that followed got started are hazy — McCammond was supposedly in a relationship in the beginning, Ducklo was not — but they told their respective bosses about their relationship in November of 2020, rather conveniently after the election. Had the two been public about a relationship before then, McCammond almost certainly would have been pulled off of covering the 2020 campaign. This would have been very bad for an ambitious young McCammond’s career. It wouldn’t have looked great for Biden either, but that depends on how willing the D.C. press corps is to criticize one of their own for being physically intimate with a Democratic campaign rather than just metaphorically so.

Now this isn’t the first time this has happened. In 2008, there was a briefly notable story about a campaign reporter for a major publication getting involved with a speechwriter on John McCain’s campaign. In that case, the reporter, who it’s worth saying has since come to terms with her alcoholism and become a Christian, was fired.

Even then I didn’t necessarily take that as a sign the media were committed to high ethical standards. As a friend of mine quipped at the time, “She wasn’t fired for getting involved with the campaign, she was fired for getting involved with the campaign and not getting any scoops out of it.” That was not too cynical an observation. In 2018, a reporter was caught sleeping with the former head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. In that case, the information she, uh, extracted from her source made her a finalist for a Pulitzer. That reporter is still working at The New York Times.

Since then, the media landscape hasn’t gotten any better. McCammond told her bosses all her reporting on the campaign was effectively compromised, and this time around her employer’s public response was “we stand behind her and her coverage,” and she was “a valued member of the Axios team.” Not only was she not fired, a few months later she participated in a gauzy PR campaign to make the relationship public. Said PR campaign was almost certainly coordinated with White House participation, or at least it appeared in the Biden White House’s favorite outlet for ludicrously obsequious news dumps: People magazine. Actual quote from Ducklo about their relationship: “We’re both really happy, and we wanted to do it the right way.”

Suffice to say, nothing about this relationship was done the right way. And even McCammond’s media peers couldn’t entirely ignore how their version of events was being presented in such a self-serving matter. Then Politico reporter Tara Palmeri — though she is now a straight political journalist, it is perhaps worth noting that early in her career she was a D.C. gossip reporter — went sniffing around asking questions. This culminated in a threatening phone call where Ducklo told Palmeri, “I will destroy you.” Ducklo was initially suspended from the White House for a week when the call was leaked to Vanity Fair, but he quickly resigned under pressure.

Less than a month after Ducklo’s resignation, it was announced that McCammond would be leaving Axios to become the editor of Teen Vogue, a bizarre media property owned by magazine giant Conde Nast. Where Teen Vogue used to be a magazine selling young girls zit cream, it now exists only online and has largely gained attention in recent years for over-the-top political screeds and youth-friendly material such as “Anal Sex: What You Need to Know.”

McCammond lasted in that job for two weeks. An Instagram post from Diana Tsui, a former editor at New York Magazine, resurfaced some old tweets from McCammond, who is black, from when she was a teenager about, among other things, “googling how to not wake up with swollen, asian eyes.” Tsui then asked whether McCammond could represent Teen Vogue’s commitment to “inclusiveness and empowerment.” This led a bunch of staffers at Teen Vogue to send a letter to Conde Nast management condemning their new boss. Ulta Beauty, which isn’t afraid of alienating conservative consumers, reportedly put a seven-figure ad buy with Conde Nast on hold over the McCammond controversy.

McCammond left Teen Vogue shortly after, making it very clear just how situational and political the ethical standards in the media are. That was March of 2021, and by July of that year, she was back in her old job at Axios. She’s been at Axios, as well as working as a contributor to MSNBC, ever since.

While I don’t exactly blame McCammond for her sanctimonious persecution in the New York media, what exactly about that resume suggests she should be an editor at The Washington Post? To be clear, the Post is a shadow of its former self and not really owed much in the way of respect. In recent years, it has been hemorrhaging money, there have been disastrous internal newsroom fights playing out in public, they’ve had to settle a libel lawsuit, and at least one of their best-known reporters is a complete neurotic and regular source of public humiliation for the paper.

The Post has a serious reputational problem, and they just hired someone for a top editorial position who has a reputation for being untrustworthy. I’ve never met Alexi McCammond and have nothing personal against her — but absolutely nothing about McCammond suggests she’s such a generational talent that it’s worth hiring her in spite of the fact that every time the Post publishes another bad op-ed, they will endure legions of snarky tweets about whether the opinion editor has disclosed whether she’s sharing a bed with the person who wrote it.

In 2016, Donald Trump famously said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” The media establishment pretended to be outraged, but the fact is I’m not sure shooting someone on Fifth Avenue would cause any notable reporters to lose their jobs, either. McCammond didn’t even feint at an apology for her behavior, and she’s in a business where even the appearance of wrongdoing should matter.

The fact is that Americans don’t get accountability from politicians because journalists stopped demanding it of themselves. And in doing so, they have earned your hatred and no one’s respect. Ultimately, the most damning thing about Alexi McCammond’s continued professional success is that it’s unsurprising. Among the many, many tales of journalists behaving badly, her story barely even rates.


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