Why Conde Nast Should Have Kept Alexi McCammond
Is there a statute of limitations for bigotry? How about if you were a teenager?
(image via cnn)
Look — I get it — Conde Nast had little choice.
Alexi McCammond posted racist, horrible anti-Asian tweets as a seventeen year old. The rise of Asian-American hate crimes makes any tolerance for that behavior untenable. The internal and external office politics surrounding McCammond’s March 5th hire made keeping her on difficult, to say the least. Cosmetics giant Ultra paused their seven-figure ad campaign with the Conde Nast title pending a review of her appointment. Employees at Teen Vogue emphatically protested her hire. After this week’s Atlanta shootings, McCammond’s editorship was pretty much dead on arrival.
But should it have been?
The tweets in question were not just a decade old, they were committed to social media when Alexi McCammond was seventeen years old. At the risk of dating myself, social media was not around when I was seventeen (we used the code of Morse). The things a lot of us thought about at seventeen are — praise the Lord — lost. But for a growing cadre of workers, rising, social media was and is a fact of life. Are these workers now responsible for the social media they committed to posting as teenagers? Because, if so: human resources, we have a problem.
Alexi McCammond did not hide the fact that she had made the tweets. Stan Duncan, Condé Nast’s Chief People Officer, said in an email to staff that McCammond was "straightforward and transparent" about those damning tweets during the hiring process. “Given her previous acknowledgement of these posts and her sincere apologies, in addition to her remarkable work in journalism elevating the voices of marginalized communities, we were looking forward to welcoming her into our community,” Duncan said in the email.
As the email noted, McCammond has been contrite from the get go. She has essentially been on an apology tour since 2019. And she issued at least two apologies in the week before her start date, including this one:
Stupid tweets have famously blown up careers. Who among us can forget this unfortunate nugget?
Strong arguments can be made on either side of whether or not a career should be exploded because of social media dumbfuckery. Scores of media/cultural figures have been fired for random acts of social media malpractice. Members of that lamentable club include: the aforementioned Justine Sacco, former EIC of Bon Appétit Adam Rapoport, Reza Aslan, former vice president and senior legal counsel at CBS Hayley Geftman-Gold, Rosanne Barr, former HHS Spokesperson Michael Caputo and scores of reality show stars. I could go on (and on, and on).
Is there a statute of limitations for bigotry expressed on social media? How about if you were a teenager when you expressed it? How about if you were a teenager when you committed those acts of bigotry, but then you edit a magazine for teenagers? Can there be a valuable, teachable lesson in that? Could Teen Vogue have benefitted from the lessons of an editor that had screwed up as a teenager? “If you are going to make a brave hire of someone just six/seven years out of college for that role, then show the same courage in sticking with it,” tweeted media commentator Colby Hall on Thursday afternoon.
If Conde Nast had stuck with Alexi McCammond, they would have gotten a hugely repentant EIC with an eye towards inclusion and social media etiquette. “We denounce the racist tweets,” the Asian American Journalists Association said in a press release last week. “But we also believe that there is room for everyone to acknowledge, learn and grow from past mistakes.”
Her first editor’s letter would have been a media mini-event, to be sure. Sister publication Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire used to ask celebrities if they had any regrets. I don’t think a single of those jet-setters has ever admitted to having one. Had Conde Nast stuck with Alexi McCammond, they would have had an editor at one of their flagship titles that actually did.
But, alas, it was not to be.