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James Kirchick attended Yale University, and wrote for its student newspaper, the Yale Daily News. He is a fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington; prior to this, he was writer-at-large for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
For over three years, Kirchick worked at The New Republic, covering domestic politics, intelligence, and American foreign policy. Kirchick’s reportage has appeared in The Weekly Standard, The American Interest, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Columbia Journalism Review, and The Spectator. He writes frequently for newspapers including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Kirchick has worked as a reporter for The New York Sun, the New York Daily News, and The Hill, and has been a columnist for the New York Daily News and the Washington Examiner. He is a regular book critic and reviews frequently for Commentary, the Claremont Review of Books, Policy Review, and World Affairs, among others. He has received the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Excellence in Student Journalism Award and the Journalist of the Year Award.
In 2008, Kirchick wrote about newsletters that contained homophobic, conspiratorial and racist material, published under the name of Texas Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. The story again became prominent in the 2012 presidential election. Sam Stein of The Huffington Post also wrote in an article on the newsletters that there is evidence from old interviews with Ron Paul that he was writing for the newsletter during the period of time that the racist language was being published in his newsletter.
It was later claimed by television station WXIX that Ron Paul was not the author of the newsletter segments which contained the material in question. In their second newscast on the scandal in January 2012, based on information provided by Lew Rockwell, who had also worked on the newsletter, WXIX's Reality Check claimed that the offending articles may have been written by one of the freelance writers who were said to have been employed at the time.
Erik Wemple for The Washington Post wrote an article that included Kirchick's response to WXIX's second newscast, where Kirchick implied that the writer of the WXIX article, Ben Swann, was incorrect in his naming of the supposed writer of the "Special Edition on Racial Terrorism".
Ron Paul did not initially deny authorship of the offending material, though he had begun denying it by 2001. He has accepted responsibility for the content regardless of its author, as it was published under his name.
Immediately after U.S. Army soldier Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning's July 30, 2013 court-martial conviction of, among other charges, violations of the Espionage Act, Kirchick wrote in the Daily News that Manning was "lucky not to be headed to the electric chair." On August 21, appearing on Russia's RT (TV network) live panel awaiting Manning's sentencing, Kirchick refused to discuss Manning, instead protesting the Russian LGBT propaganda law. When asked if he was ready to have a conversation about Manning with the assembled panel, Kirchick retorted angrily: "RT has been Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden 24/7. I haven't seen anything on your network about the anti-gay laws that have been passed in Russia and the increasing climate of violence and hostility towards gay people." One of the program's hosts objected, saying they had a panel discussing it only the day before. Tweeting shortly after the segment, Kirchick claimed RT "just called taxi company that took me to studio to drop me off on the side of the highway on way to Stockholm airport".
Later that day, Politico reached out to both Kirchick and RT for comment. Kirchick called for a "boycott" of RT, calling its employees "not journalists, they're propagandists". RT responded in an e-mail, calling Kirchick's protest "unrelated to the subject of the panel. Regretfully, RT had no other recourse but to continue the discussion without him". The Washington Post PostPartisan blogger Jonathan Capehart commended Kirchick for his "heroic" action; The New Republic's Julia Ioffe praised Kirchick's "trolling of RT"; and the next day, The Washington Post published Kirchick's opinion piece titled "Why I ambushed Russia's news network with rainbow suspenders." In it, Kirchick further denounced RT as broadcasting "sophisticated conspiracy theories and anti-establishment attitudes to push a virulently anti-American and illiberal agenda", while relying on "a pool of talking heads, including 9/11 truthers, anti-Semites, and other assorted extremists, who espouse the sort of views found where the far left and the far right converge". A day later, MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell invited Kirchick onto his show where they discussed related concerns and controversies at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
Kirchick was one of a number of conservative pundits, along with Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, who supported Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton over the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump for the presidency during the 2016 American presidential elections. He described Trump as a "brashly authoritarian populist" and Clinton as "not only ... the obvious choice for those who don’t want to see our country degenerate into a banana republic, she’s the clear conservative choice as well."
On August 15, 2016, The Daily Beast published an article by Kirchick which listed Jill Stein, Rania Khalek, Corey Robin, Glenn Greenwald, Ishaan Tharoor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and others as "Hillary Clinton-Loathing, Donald Trump-Loving Useful Idiots of the Left". However, Salon's Ben Norton contacted all of those who were mentioned in the article. All of them, except for Christopher Ketcham, stated they did not support Trump.