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This Maryland Reporter Is Uniquely Situated to Cover Brett Kavanaugh

Brian Karem covers Montgomery County and the White House. And he's getting scoops.
Brian Karem, center, at a White House briefing. Screenshot via the White House.

A startling report on Monday morning said Montgomery County officials were “aware of a potential second sexual assault complaint in the county” regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. That meant a potential fourth accuser for Kavanaugh, after Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and the still unnamed woman represented by Michael Avenatti.

This article, later updated after officials clarified they hadn’t received a request from a victim to look into any charges, cited anonymous county investigators. It wasn’t the product of a big operation like NBC News or the Washington Post; it came from the Montgomery County Sentinel, a relatively small operation outside of the Beltway run by Brian Karem, who also wrote the article. The Sentinel, which has a staff of about 20 people, has been in operation since 1855 and serves Rockville, not too far from Kavanaugh’s hometown of Chevy Chase.

But you probably don’t know Karem from the Sentinel. In fact, he may be more familiar to you as “that guy who yells quite loudly during the White House press briefings.” Karem rose to notoriety after a particularly fiery exchange with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders last June, where he harangued Sanders for maligning the press corps. Ever since, Karem, who holds a White House “hard pass,” has raised his profile considerably. You could regularly see him on CNN—where he’s inked a contributor deal—or read him weekly in Playboy. But Karem tells Washingtonian that his primary gig is the Sentinel, a paper that cover issues like Kavanaugh’s confirmation alongside articles about the local deer population and high school football.

Karem says widening the lens of a local paper makes sense for his readers. “We have nearly 80,000 government workers in Price George’s and Montgomery counties. Lobbyists, Supreme Court justices, staffers, you name it,” Karem says. “Many times these stories—these sweeping, national joints—are local stories.”

Karem is well-situated to cover both. The former true-crime author ping-ponged around television and political reporting for decades, with stops at America’s Most Wanted and People magazine. But in the late ’90s, his eldest son got into Georgetown Prep, the same high school attended by Kavanaugh and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Karem received what he calls a “hefty tuition bill” and realized he needed to get another job to help defray costs. He accepted a role at the Sentinel and became its executive editor nearly 12 years ago, aiding in day-to-day journalism, assigning staff, and covering 1600 Pennsylvania all at once.

Karem is one of a few local Washington reporters who has hard pass access to the press briefing room. Despite his frequent back-and-forths with Sanders, Karem’s clearance doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. (Though, he says laughing, “we all know how much [the White House] loves me in there.”) He argues that thanks in part to his White House perch, the Sentinel provides a unique service to its readers: “The community newspaper is one of the last bastions of news, where I as an editor can both report important stories and mentor young journalists. We write clips where Mom and Dad can clip and paste to the fridge on one page, and report on pressing national matters on the other. Both inform each other.”

He also reminds journalists not to let the size of their outlet limit their ambitions.

“I just think if you’re a reporter in Washington, no matter your outfit, you need to be working all of your angles and sources. Really getting out there. Remember what Tip O’Neill said: All politics is local.”

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Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd joined Washingtonian as a staff writer in June 2018. She previously covered the White House for Independent Journal Review. She currently lives in Navy Yard.