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Washington Post's Al Kamen to speak at Devroy Forum in April

February 19, 2014
Al Kamen

Devroy Forum set for April 17 in Schofield Auditorium

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation and department of communication and journalism will host the Devroy Forum, which begins at 7 p.m April 17 in the university's Schofield Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

The Ann Devroy Memorial Forum and the Devroy Memorial Fund are presented in memory of 1970 UW-Eau Claire journalism graduate Ann Devroy, whose ambition and talent led her through an extraordinary career before her death in 1997 at age 49. For the complete history of Devroy and the memorial forum created in her name, visit the forum website.

As an additional highlight of the forum, one journalism student who shows exceptional promise is selected to receive the Devroy Scholarship, which includes a January residency at The Washington Post and a paid summer internship at one of Wisconsin's three largest newspapers.

April 15, 2014, update: Al Kamen will not be speaking at the Devroy Forum April 17 due to a back injury. Speaking in his place will be Scott Wilson, The Washington Post's White House bureau chief. Read more about Scott Wilson and his Devroy Forum presentation.

EAU CLAIRE — The first thing Al Kamen remembers from all those years of sitting next to Ann Devroy in The Washington Post newsroom is the flying coffee.

"I had the distinction of having about 20 shirts ruined by all of the cups of coffee spilled on me," Kamen said. "She was always popping up from behind the low partition that divided us, yelling, 'Kamen, did you hear this? Here's something for your column!'

"I'd be so startled that I'd spill my coffee," Kamen said. "And I had the worst seat, right on a busy aisle where colleagues ran by, and some of them spilled coffee on my back. But I never wanted to move. Her tips were gems — always spot on. She was just the best reporter. She heard everything, and she was generous to a fault."

So when Kamen heard that Devroy's widower, Mark Matthews, suggested he fly to Eau Claire for this year's Devroy Forum, Kamen said he was "delighted" to comply.

Kamen, who is in his 34th year at The Washington Post and his 21st year of writing its popular "In the Loop" column on executive branch news, will be the featured speaker April 17 for the 17th annual Ann Devroy Memorial Forum at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

That night, Kamen will take questions from the audience about anything having to do with politics and 21st-century journalism after he speaks briefly about his current column and blog chronicling Washington's inner workings, along with his history of working beside the top reporters of the day: Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein — and Ann Devroy.

"Nobody gave the White House as much grief as she did," Kamen said. "She was an extraordinary journalist and an extraordinary human."

Kamen covered the Clinton administration alongside Devroy — a Green Bay native and 1970 UW-Eau Claire journalism graduate — from 1992 until shortly before her premature death from cancer in 1997. Legendary was her daily badgering of George Stephanopoulos, the current "Good Morning America" host who was President Bill Clinton's press secretary and senior adviser, Kamen said. "It says about a lot about him — and her — that Stephanopoulos is now the largest individual contributor to the Devroy Scholarship fund at UW-Eau Claire."

Before starting to cover the Clinton administration and launching "In the Loop," Kamen had reported for The Post on immigration issues, the Department of State, district courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. He started his journalism career working with Woodward and Bernstein on their second book about the Watergate scandal, "The Final Days." He began his newspaper career covering cops in 1976 at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News and returned to Washington to help Woodward and Scott Armstrong report and write "The Brethren," their behind-the-scenes book on the Supreme Court.

"'The Final Days' is the work of four people," Woodward and Bernstein explained in their authors' note. "Scott Armstrong, a former Senate Watergate Committee investigator, and Al Kamen, a freelance writer/researcher, assisted us full time in the reporting, research and some of the writing. Their contributions were immeasurable. We are the beneficiaries of their intelligence, imagination, sense of organization and diligence. We will never be able to thank them enough."

Now Kamen enjoys writing his "In the Loop" columns and blogs, because even if they're not big exposés, they shed light on the Washington people and policies that affect Americans far beyond the Beltway, he says.

"My stuff is about the leaks, foibles, wasteful spending and sort of petty venalities of Washington characters," Kamen said. "It's about the smaller human frailties, of which there are many."

Last November, for example, he wrote a wry column about the doling out of ambassadorships to President Obama's top campaign financers — those who "bundled" together thousands of individual contributions.

"There are still some fine spots — such as Costa Rica, the Bahamas and Switzerland — without official nominees, but it's likely that candidates are penciled in for the jobs," Kamen wrote. "This is troublesome, especially for Obama mega-bundlers — and there were so many — looking for their due. After all, it's hard to create new countries. But maybe jobs previously filled by non-bundlers can go to worthy contributors?"

Kamen rubbed elbows with future campaign bundlers when he was a student at Harvard, where he graduated with a degree in government, but he also got his start in news there, at the campus radio station. He was an adjunct professor of journalism, off and on, from 1995 to 2004, in the master's program at Georgetown University, and he's looking forward to getting back in a classroom at UW-Eau Claire, he says. Reviving a tradition from the early years of the Devroy Forum, Kamen has agreed to meet with journalism students in small groups the morning after his speech.

"Al Kamen is the perfect visiting journalist for this year's Devroy Forum," said Dr. Mike Dorsher, the associate professor whose "Research Methods for Journalists" class will meet with Kamen on April 18. "More so than any of the Devroy Forum speakers before him, Kamen is increasingly involved in social media. He gets feedback and sources from his blog and his Twitter feed. But the foundation for everything he does with new media is the solid reporting lessons he learned from Woodward and Bernstein and Devroy. Our students could learn a lot from him."



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