Longtime Washington Post columnist Al Kamen plans to retire, National Desk editors told staffers in a memo Friday. Kamen’s “In the Loop” column has run for 23 years. His last column is scheduled for October 9. Here’s the memo.
There’s no way to dress this up: Al Kamen is retiring from The Washington Post. This news may bring cheer to members of congressional delegations headed overseas and others who wish to keep their foibles and excesses out of the public eye, but it saddens us deeply. Kamen is a Post legend, a Washington institution and a pretty funny guy to have around.
For nearly 23 years, he has written “In the Loop,” the indispensable guide to official Washington. This effort started as a temporary assignment to chronicle the launch of the Clinton presidency. It was thrillingly titled “In Transition.” Deploying his sometimes ouch-inducing wit and the delicious intel provided by his extensive contacts, Kamen turned the column into a Washington must-read. One of Kamen’s old friends, a guy who also likes to identify himself by his last name, wrote this to him: “If you step back for a moment, your column in several ways foreshadowed the Internet age, and Facebook and Twitter – short, informed blasts of news, items pithy and personal, a little sarcastic and knowing of the absurd and conflicted ways of Washington.” That friend would be Woodward.
Kamen did more than tell readers who was up, who was down and who was likely to win that plum job. He chronicled seemingly every dubious “codel” and got more than a few of them canceled from sheer embarrassment. He even shook the government of Japan when in 2010 he wrote that the “hapless” and “increasingly loopy” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was the biggest loser at a Washington summit. “Loopy” suddenly became the popular phrase in Japan and Hatoyama was forced to concede to the Japanese Diet: “As The Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish prime minister.” He resigned within weeks.
Kamen, who began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News after graduating from Harvard, joined The Post in 1980. He assisted Woodward and Carl Bernstein in writing “The Final Days” and then Woodward and Scott Armstrong in writing ”The Brethen.” Before starting “In the Loop,” Kamen covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. As he frequently noted, he was with Secretary of State James Baker in Mongolia when Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait upended Baker’s plans to hunt endangered Argali sheep—the kind of detail that would be the hallmark of his column for more than two decades.
His last column will appear Oct. 9, but Kamen’s impact on Washington reporting and this newspaper will live on. There will be a caking on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 3 pm — please join us to congratulate Al for 35 years of service to The Post.
Cameron Scott Alan