It’s midweek in early December, an incoming president is assembling his government, and it’s Al Kamen’s job to chronicle the changes. He’s writing his In the Loop column for the paper five days a week, he’s sending daily dispatches to Washingtonpost.com, he’s preparing to start his own blog on the Post’s Web site.
“The interest is so intense,” he says. “People are fascinated by who’s coming in and who’s going out.”
Kamen’s column has become a must-read within the Post. If you want to find out the most likely candidates for secretary of Agriculture or ambassador to Rome or a crucial but midlevel budget job, you’re likely to find it first in In the Loop. Kamen has become the Oracle.
The Loop was born after Bill Clinton’s presidential win. Covering the incoming administration, Kamen started writing a column slugged In Transition. When Clinton took office in 1993, the column was renamed the New Regime. That April it became In the Loop, which stuck.
“It was supposed to be a temporary column for appointments until the transition finished,” he says. “It never did."
From Capitol Hill, the White House, and the agencies, tips and secret memos started flying over the transom and into Kamen’s copy. Many times the Loop eclipsed the Post’s gossip column with the juiciest—or most embarrassing—news of the day.
When FEMA held a “press conference” in 2007 and its staffers posed as reporters, Kamen broke the story. His coverage of Paul Wolfowitz’s engineering a raise and a sweetheart job for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, grew into a scandal that forced Wolfowitz from his World Bank presidency.
“My colleagues are a big help,” he says. “A lot of this is a team effort.”
Reporter Phil Rucker has joined Kamen’s team. “Indispensable,” Kamen says of his current collaborator.
Kamen, who started reporting for the Post in 1980, is one of many veterans who have taken the Post’s buyout and is no longer on staff but continues to work for the daily. Among the “bought out” scribes are education writer Jay Mathews, outdoor columnist Angus Phillips, and Sunday sports columnist George Solomon.
The Kamen column fills the top half of a page called In the Loop five days a week and has become a popular column on Washingtonpost.com with frequent updates.
How’s the response?
“A lot stronger,” he says. “I’m getting two, three, or four times more responses.”
But he’s so busy that he has little time to respond himself.