The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Alexis C. Madrigal, Harvard ’04

Posted on | March 10, 2013 | 42 Comments

“I remember walking down Barlett Street in the Mission and saying to myself, out loud, ‘I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I’M A WRITER!’ It was all I’d wanted to be since I was 16 years old. And I was making it.”
Alexis C. Madrigal, “A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013,” The Atlantic

You need to descrease your Red Bull intake, kid. And your dream? Too small, really. Certainly too small to pile up student debt for the tuition at Harvard ($54,496 a year). There’s a book about that.

An Ivy League education is not a prerequisite to being a writer, yet I have long noticed that The Atlantic has a fetish for Harvardians, so there is this sense of clubby cliqueishness about it. This is not mere elitism and it’s not “meritocracy.” It’s credentialism, is what it is.

And it is impossible to imagine that any Harvard alumnus ever would have walked into the offices of the (now defunct) Cobb News-Chronicle on Love Street in Austell, Georgia, on a spring day in 1986 and walked out with an assignment to cover the City Council meeting that night.

While I don’t recall saying out loud, “I’m a writer,” I was happy to have a job, and the pay was $4.50 an hour.

This was less than I’d been paid to drive a forklift in a warehouse on Fulton Industrial Boulevard for the past year and a half, but I didn’t have to wear a hard hat, there was no heavy lifting involved, and this entry-level gig offered hope that one day at the Jax State reunion, I’d have a respectable answer to the question, “What are you doing these days?”

Being a reporter — or, subsequently, a sports editor, etc. — was at least the kind of coat-and-tie job a college graduate was supposed to have. Whether journalism is an altogether respectable profession is a subject of much debate lately. Apparently, everybody in this racket is now either (a) plagiarizing, (b) working for shady foreign dictators, or (c) hustling for peanuts while competing for page-views with LOLCats.

Would it be wrong to blame this on Alexis C. Madrigal, Harvard ’04? Yes.

But we need someone to blame, kid, and you’ll do for now. So . . .

This self-indulgent and arguably self-aggrandizing rant of yours about what it’s like to work as Web editor for The Atlantic? I’m not saying that there is anything factually inaccurate about it, but the general tone of the thing is insufferably smug, Harvard Boy.

Like you invented the fucking Internet or something. We took a vote, Alexis, and it was unanimous: We all want to stab your eyes out.

How dare you — who have never been down range, as it were — presume any standing to lecture Nate Thayer as having done something “nasty,” about which you have any right to be “incensed”?

Whatever stuff you were flinging over the digital transom circa 2004 that made you say, “I’m a writer,” I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t the kind of work Nate Thayer does, which involves traveling places where news is happening, seeing it with your own eyes, and taking notes.

As I say, I’m reasonably certain you never did that kind of work, Alexis, because if you had paid those kind of dues, you certainly would have shared the universal umbrage at the disrespectful way your “global editor” Olga treated Nate Thayer.

Your pious sermonette about how hard it is to do your job, and why Olga couldn’t have at least offered Nate $50 for the 1,200-word article she solicited from him, would never have come to my attention, Alexis, if I hadn’t been monitoring my Site Meter and noticed incoming traffic from liberal economist Brad DeLong’s blog.

“Oh, shit,” I thought. “What have I done this time?”

Generally speaking, liberal blogs never link me except in scornful outrage, but this time — “Noted for March 10, 2013” — I found a link down at the end for my take on the Juan Williams scandal. Thanks, Professor DeLong, and thank you also for linking Alexis C. Madrigal, Harvard ’04, because my blood pressure probably wasn’t high enough already, and there’s nothing like aerobic cursing to get that cardiovascular thing going.


And I say that not merely on my own behalf, but on behalf of every other doomed soul hustling for nickels and dimes without benefit of a Harvard diploma or a staff gig or an academic/think-tank sinecure. Because here’s the thing, Alexis: It ain’t like you didn’t have a choice.

“I asked myself whether I should have stayed at the hedge fund job that I took right out of college and hated so much I quit before the summer ended.”

Show of hands?

Yeah, it’s unanimous again, Alexis. We all wish you had stayed with that hedge fund job you took right out of college, because none of us ever got that kind of offer. We didn’t go to Harvard.

You quit a job that none of us ever got offered, Alexis, and now you’re over here telling Nate Thayer how to do his job — and do it for free?

What part of “fuck you” is so hard to understand?

Anyway, I don’t have time today to thoroughly fisk your article, so I’ll have to crowd-source it to what some guy called the Army of Davids. And like I said, it’s not that you got anything factually wrong.

It’s your punk attitude — your lack of respect — that is the problem.

Did you know Bill Quick at Daily Pundit named the blogosphere? Because I’m thinking he might have a thing or two to say about this.

Journalism is not rocket science. You didn’t invent the Internet, Alexis. And if Ace of Spades decides to rip you apart, hey, stuff happens.



42 Responses to “Alexis C. Madrigal, Harvard ’04”

  1. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    I blame Scalia too for perpetuating “the myth” about Harvard grads. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty smart and competent people who go to Harvard and other Ivy League schools (and if you are an employer you might think–oh wait, they went to Harvard, they might be smart). And I do not engage in reverse discrimination over that, I just suggest we do this:

    Judge people (especially ones who have been working a few years) by their actual work product and not the school they got accepted to.

  2. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    And an education does have a cost benefit. If going to an Ivy League school scores you a great paying career, then that $50K a year investment may be worth it. If not, then what did you pay for?

  3. robertstacymccain
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Membership in the Harvard Alumni Association has benefits, I suppose, but I never could have afforded the admission fee.

  4. WJJ Hoge
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    And some of us #justabloggers have day jobs to support our blogging—which can be an advantage. Working in the real world does provide a very different outlook than what one gets from an academic or think tank sinecure.

    BTW, my day job at Goddard Space Flight Center ain’t rocket science. It deals with applied quantum physics.

  5. Matthew W
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    Dang Stacy !!
    Maybe I don’t know ll of the players or all of the backstories, but it sounds like someone peed in your coffee today.

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    If you really could not pay, most Ivy League schools will cover tuition and fees to attend (if you get accepted). But they are not that generous. What they do is getting you in hock up to the gills on all available government loan programs, and then cover the difference.

  7. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    Just a guess, but I suspect that happens more often than not!

  8. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    Your knowledge of quantum physics must help in dealing with the uncertainty principals that are Kimberlin-Rauhauser.

  9. Scribe of Slog (McGehee)
    March 10th, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

    I remember walking down the street in Sacramento and saying to myself, out loud, ‘I’m an inventory auditor. I’m an inventory auditor! I’M AN INVENTORY AUDITOR!’ It was all I’d wanted to be since I went in to apply for the job 20 minutes ago. And I was making it.

    Yeah, I can relate.

  10. rosalie
    March 10th, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

    You could have asked
    Elizabeth Warren how to do it.

  11. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    Has RSM declared some tribal identity?

  12. rosalie
    March 10th, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    He could have used the same tribal identity as Warren.

  13. JeffWeimer
    March 10th, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    Crimson Tide

  14. K-Bob
    March 10th, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    Shhh! Don’t tell the Harvard grads that the books they read are all available online or through Amazon, and you can often correspond with the author if you have questions. We do that in what’s typically called the realm of “technology.” (And of course, when people think of technology, they tend to think of places warmer and sunnier than Massachusetts, even though MIT is there, too.)

    I’m going to go way out on a limb and assert that the guy who came up with “slide to unlock” on your typical smartphone has influenced society far more than someone impressed that he got paid to to be a web editor. And I’ll just bet that he doesn’t actually deal with code. Just text. So that doesn’t really make one a “web” editor. It just makes one an “editor.”

  15. JeffS
    March 10th, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    If not, then what did you pay for?

    Chicks. Lots and lots of chicks, the majority of them lefties, and hence easy picking for beta males “sympathetic” to their political dialogue.

  16. Esau's Message
    March 10th, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Stacy has thrown the fisking of this piece out to the Army of Davids. Well, I’m going AWOL.

    The author is insufferably solipsistic. His little world of buying content for one site is his entire universe. The self-regard, the whining, the defensive rationalizations, the half-baked theorizing about the nature of the internet, his protective loyalty to poor Olga (only on the job two weeks *sob*), his immersion in the Atlantic’s storied history, his anger at Nate Thayer, his love for his job, the irrational generalizations from his narrow personal experience, his bitching about economic realities.

    When I was in law school 30 years ago, a friend and roommate responded to my bitching and pissing and moaning and groaning about something or other: “Everyone has their world of shit to deal with. That doesn’t give you the right to dump it on someone else.” That’s what Nate Thayer should tell Mr. Madrigal.

  17. Esau's Message
    March 10th, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    If you’re in it for chicks and you grew up in Oakland, go to UCSD. It’s a lot cheaper and the girls are much better looking. And the climate means they’re rarely bundled up in a parka, so you can get an idea of whether they’re worth pursuing.

  18. Esau's Message
    March 10th, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    I should add that Mr. Madrigal may be a writer, but he is not a good writer. In fact, he stinks.

  19. Ed Driscoll » ‘The State of Journalism in 2013′
    March 10th, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    […] the whole thing, and then check out these two posts by Stacy McCain for both more of the backstory of this exchange, and more on the future of online […]

  20. Bob Belvedere
    March 10th, 2013 @ 4:44 pm


  21. Quartermaster
    March 10th, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

    Prolly. Particularly since Quantum Physics is just an officially sanctioned form of Alchemy. “It has,” as Richard Feynman put it, “one thing in it’s favor, it’s true.” It will prolly require some form of black magic to understand that lot.

  22. Quartermaster
    March 10th, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

    Wouldn’t be TOM otherwise. I think that’s been accorded the honor of a law of Physics these days.

  23. Scribe of Slog (McGehee)
    March 10th, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

    Judge people by their actual work product and not the school they got accepted to.

    <faints dead away>

  24. rmnixondeceased
    March 10th, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

    Heh. One of the more taxing parts of being in Purgatory is the sheer numbers of smug Haaarvardites with which I am surrounded. Clueless and self-entitled are the two kindest things I can say about them.

  25. Roxeanne de Luca
    March 10th, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

    What a self-absorbed, entitled twat. If you have debt that makes you sick and a hedge fund job, you keep the hedge fund job until you get rid of your debt. Problem solved.

    “Why won’t the world recognize my talent is worth more!?”

    I threw up my ratatouille when I read that. “Talent” is not worth ANYTHING. Good work product is.

    If a college kid wrote this, or someone a year out of school, I would get it, but how the hell does one get to be thirty years old and still think this way? HOW?

  26. Roxeanne de Luca
    March 10th, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

    …and I’m the first to say that adults are adults, so don’t play the age game, but for frick’s sake, what damn fool cannot tell the difference between a newbie working for peanuts to get his foot in the door and a veteran working for free to please some clueless editor?

  27. SDN
    March 10th, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

    I like what Travis Taylor and John Ringo said about it in Vorpal Blade:”Every time you understand something, you have to make a sanity check.” Straight from Call of Cthulhu….

  28. none
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

    Alexis? Madrigal?


  29. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

    This is what “journalism” has evolved into now. Writing, reporting, researching, and fact-checking are not only no longer the prime skills, they aren’t required at all if the applicant went to the proper school and holds all the proper opinions.

  30. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

    He didn’t go there, either.

  31. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

    Actually I don’t think any of the various schools’ Alumni Associations require that you be a real alumnus if you pay the membership fee. They’ll send a nice certificate of membership that will fool most of the rubes.

  32. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

    Yeah, it is almost like there was a Bulwer-Lytton Name Generator chugging away in some demented scientist’s dungeon laboratory.

  33. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

    Now you understand how Obama got elected twice.

  34. Adjoran
    March 10th, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

    Trust me, love him when he’s dishing out the butt-hurt: when he’s feeling it instead, it ain’t pretty around here.

  35. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

    Some European tribal identity? Yeah they have that in common!

    As for Cherokee, that would apply only to Stacy.

  36. Eric Ashley
    March 10th, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

    Champions, D&D, Vampire and Mage, and Multiverser…but no Call of Cthulhu although I heard about it, and did end up writing a scenario for Multiverser based on Lovecraft.

    And yeah, I like Ringo as well. Met him once.

  37. richard mcenroe
    March 11th, 2013 @ 12:47 am

    I remember walking up the steps to my house after selling my first short story and my sister handing me a cartoon of a young man panhandling with a sign, SOLD ONE STORY AND EXCITEDLY QUIT MY JOB.

    Think I got better advice than little Alexis got from his invisible audience.

  38. richard mcenroe
    March 11th, 2013 @ 12:48 am

    The rocket is either here or not here and we can’t be sure which? (Schroedinger’s Orbit)

  39. richard mcenroe
    March 11th, 2013 @ 12:50 am

    Sure you could. Even after working for the Washington Times you had to have some soul left.

  40. Bob Belvedere
    March 11th, 2013 @ 7:18 am


  41. Esau's Message
    March 11th, 2013 @ 9:05 am

    That pretty much covers it.

  42. Quartermaster
    March 11th, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    With Quantum Physics, a sanity check if of no use. When I took Quantum Physics and then Solid State Physics (the Quantum Physics of solid state electronics), wag that I am, I asked the prof if he understood it. His waggish retort was something along the lines of, “If I did I would be a candidate for Central State (the local loony bin).”

    I did well in both courses and I’m not sure if that says anything about me or not.