Armie Hammer had a story to tell to exonerate him of sexual assault accusations; Graydon Carter’s Air Mail ran with it and billed it as the “fact-checked version of what happened”
Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence and abuse.
“We were pretty skeptical when James Kirchick said he wanted to interview the actor Armie Hammer about his downfall,” wrote Air Mail co-editors Graydon Carter and Alessandra Stanley in their editor’s note on why they ended up publishing the first interview with the movie star after multiple women accused him of sexual abuse. After all, Kirchick, who told The Hill TV that he was “approached last fall through an intermediary with the opportunity to interview Armie Hammer for the first time,” does not typically cover celebrity scandals and primarily writes political commentary as a writer-at-large for Air Mail, a columnist at Tablet, and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington. What convinced the editors to greenlight Kirchick’s pitch, they wrote, was that he “wanted to know why so few of the accusations against Hammer were examined seriously by the media or law enforcement.” The resulting story, published on February 4 — which has become Air Mail’s most-read story ever with, according to a source there, more than 340,000 views in its first few days — was touted by Carter and Stanley as a “fact-checked version of what happened to turn the movie star into a Hollywood pariah.”
The allegations against Hammer range from carving his initial into a woman to coercion in bondage scenarios to rape. Though much of the coverage has focused on disturbing messages involving cannibalism, the most serious claim against Hammer is that he committed a rape in 2017 that allegedly lasted longer than four hours. The article attempts to discredit an accuser with what they claim are subsequent contradictory statements and calls into question whether the incident — which both Hammer and his accuser say happened, though their characterizations differ — could have been physically possible. In his Air Mail interview, Hammer admits to being emotionally abusive to his accusers, but, as Kirchick writes, “Hammer claims that in each of his sexual encounters, and at every stage, consent was asked for and received.” (Hammer’s attorneys did not respond to The Fine Print’s request for comment.)
In The Hill TV segment, Kirchick would go even further, claiming Hammer is the true victim in this story — “I mean, this woman has taken to the internet, and every day she makes these allegations, very serious allegations that have ruined someone’s career and really harmed their life” — and concluding that he had thoroughly debunked the woman’s accusations. “I think she’s doing a lot of damage to the cause of Me Too and to women who have been harmed by men and have been the victims of sexual violence,” Kirchick said. “I think it’s really unfortunate that we have a case here, a very high profile case, that can be used to discredit, unfortunately, legitimate claims of sexual abuse and violence.”
However, a fact-check of the piece conducted by The Fine Print as well as our own reporting, including interviews with four current or former Air Mail employees, reveal that Air Mail published a story about horrific allegations of abuse with only perfunctory efforts to investigate them. Relying primarily on Hammer, sources close to the star, and materials provided by Hammer’s representatives, Air Mail presented a thinly reported, one-sided account of events and then falsely billed it as exhaustive reporting that had exonerated the actor. Many of what the story claims are fresh revelations are, in fact, recycled information that had previously been published on social media accounts dedicated to promoting Hammer’s version of events and criticizing his accusers. “It was a lot,” a source familiar with the story told The Fine Print. “I mean, all of us kind of felt a little ick about it.”
Kirchick did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent over several days. Air Mail’s communications director, Harrison Vail, told The Fine Print, “We don’t have anything to add beyond what’s been reported in the story.” Replying to a list of 29 questions we subsequently sent and cc’ing Kirchick, Vail reiterated that comment: “Thanks for sending. Our only comment is that we stand by the story.” Carter echoed the statement, telling The Fine Print, “We stand by our story.”
While Air Mail’s Hammer story was months in the making — Kirchick conducted his interview with Hammer in L.A. by early November — the fact-checking process was rushed at the last minute. The first time Air Mail’s fact-checkers received a draft was on Thursday, January 26, nine days before the story was published on February 4. Tight fact-checking deadlines are not unusual at Air Mail. Employees who spoke to The Fine Print described an ethos of speed and relative carelessness compared to the magazine research departments of yore, where checkers made every effort to talk with every person cited in a story. At Air Mail, which typically publishes light fare about the latest in books, TV shows, fine dining, and ocean cruises, employees said it was rare, if not totally unheard of, for fact-checkers to call a writer’s sources. “There wasn’t a ton of original reporting. So there wasn’t need to make any calls or follow up with people,” said one Air Mail source. “It’s not like a serious publication with a devoted audience. I feel like they think — I’m shrugging as I’m saying this — it’s just for fun, so it’s not taken quite seriously. But it’s not an excuse to spread incorrect information.”
The Hammer story is arguably the biggest news-making article Air Mail has published since it launched in 2019. On an episode of their Morning Meeting podcast released the day the story was published, deputy editor Michael Hainey said, “I would dare predict that this story is going to throw off quite a bit of heat.” Nonetheless, the piece did not receive particularly heightened scrutiny in the fact-checking process. The lead editor was Ash Carter, Air Mail features editor and son of Graydon Carter, who in 2020 wrote the first interview with former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier after allegations of workplace sexual harassment resulted in him losing initial funding for his magazine Liberties. The Hammer piece was assigned to two fact-checkers collaborating with research and legal editor Matt Kapp.
There was little institutional imperative to attempt to reach out to the story’s subjects — including, most crucially, the women who have publicly accused Hammer of sexual abuse and rape. “Because the turnaround was so fast, it was like a hot potato,” said a source familiar with the story. The fact-checkers instead relied on Kirchick’s interview notes, materials supplied by a publicist for Hammer, and publicly available material. “All the notes that came in were from Armie Hammer, and there were not any interviews done with the women,” said a source familiar with the story. “We did the best we could with what we had been given, and we all felt a bit squeamish about the story, to be honest.” According to a source familiar with the story, there seemed to be a sense of resignation to the whole process: Discussions with Air Mail’s lawyer ended on the fallback position that if the publication were sued, their insurance would cover it.
The result is a story whose sourcing was incredibly one-sided. All of the eight sources identified in the piece are either Hammer or his friends and close contacts, all but one of whom are men: the actor’s “childhood friend,” his “longtime personal trainer,” his “doctor,” a “close friend,” the producer of one of Hammer’s movies, and, for some reason, sex expert Dan Savage. The only named female source is Hammer’s godmother Candace Garvey who is cited (but not quoted) corroborating Hammer’s claim of being sexually abused at age 13.
Just as notable, all of the sources who are described as unreachable are female: three women who have accused Hammer of abuse, Hammer’s estranged wife, Elizabeth Chambers, who recently gave an interview to Elle, and attorney Gloria Allred who once represented the first woman, known as Effie, to make allegations against Hammer by posting her explicit exchanges with Hammer. Attempts to get comments from these women appear to have been last-minute and cursory. “I’m speaking out,” one source familiar with the story told The Fine Print, “because, if Jamie didn’t indeed talk to these women, then these women — their side of the story needs to be told.”
While Kirchick said he started working on his story in the fall, two of the women who have made accusations against Hammer have said the first request for comment they received from Kirchick was on January 25, the day before the fact-checkers got the draft. Effie has shared a screenshot of an Instagram message from Kirchick that read: “Hello, I am a journalist working on a story about the Armie Hammer case. Would you be available to answer some questions?” A second person, who asked The Fine Print to withhold their name, shared screenshots of an Instagram message from Kirchick with identical wording also sent on January 25, noting it was easy to ignore since it did not name an outlet or describe the story he wanted to discuss with them. While neither’s screenshots show them responding to Kirchick, Air Mail’s published story says Effie “did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and blocked me on Instagram after I sent her a detailed list of questions,” while the other person is said to have “declined” comment.
One place where Air Mail’s story departed from coverage in other outlets is by using Effie’s full name. At her March 2021 press conference, she declined to give her last name, citing fear of harassment. Since then, while her full name has been widely publicized by celebrity gossip outlets and on social media, most major news outlets have honored her initial request, as The Fine Print chose to do for this story, in keeping with generally accepted journalism ethics that victims of alleged sexual crimes should not be identified without their consent.
Julia Morrison, who in 2021 made NFTs out of screenshots of chats she had with Hammer in 2020 in which they discussed sexual scenarios involving cages, “sex slaves,” collars, and leashes, is named nine times in the Air Mail story. Kirchick trumpets that he had obtained additional portions of those exchanges that showed Morrison telling Hammer, “i really want to be tied up” and “i an [sic] going to become your sex slave.” Morrison told The Fine Print that no one at Air Mail ever approached her to corroborate the messages. “I got nine mentions and not one reach-out,” she said. “Holy shit! That’s not cool.” She added that she thinks this speaks to the piece having an agenda. “This was not supposed to be a balanced article, I don’t think. This was supposed to be [Hammer’s] side,” she said. “Especially when dealing with issues of sexual assault, it is soimportant to talk to the victim. And even if he doesn’t ‘agree with my victimhood,’ you’re not supposed to have to agree with everybody that you cover, right? As a journalist? You’re supposed to just get the fucking story and to get it right.”
Morrison’s account contradicted internal impressions at Air Mail. “I was told that she shut us down,” said a source familiar with the story, but admitted they hadn’t personally seen the interaction. After hearing that Morrison said she’d never been contacted, the source said, “I would be inclined to believe what she said.”
Morrison is not the only person the piece implies was never contacted. Hammer’s aunt Casey Hammer, an estranged member of the family who was a producer and primary source for House of Hammer, a 2022 documentary series on Discovery+, is accused of “posing as an authority on him and ‘the victims that he’s left in his path,’” and “potentially profiting from the scandal.” But none of the Air Mail sources could recall any discussions about reaching out to her. Casey Hammer did not reply to The Fine Print’s request for comment.
It’s not just gaps in standard journalistic procedure that raise questions about the fairness of Air Mail’s story. Some of the key claims Kirchick makes on his way to dismissing the allegations against Hammer rely on flimsy logic and demonstrate even shakier due diligence. Speaking with The Hill TV, the first reason Kirchick cited for his doubt of Effie’s rape allegations was that a pectoral muscle injury Hammer suffered in January 2017 would have made him physically incapable of sexual assault on April 24, 2017, the date Effie alleges he raped her. “He shared with me medical records documenting that he had had physical therapy sessions the day before and the day after this rape took place,” Kirchick said. However, neither those records nor the quote Kirchick obtained from “one of the doctors who treated Hammer” (estimating the general length of time needed to recover from a pectoral injury) say anything about Hammer’s physical condition on the date in question. Kirchick claimed that Hammer did not fully recover from the injury until June 2018. “And we know that,” Kirchick told The Hill TV, “because he tweeted about it in the summer of 2018. So, this left me questioning whether or not it would have even been physically possible for a man to violently rape a woman for over four hours without the use of his dominant limb. I think that should raise some serious questions about this.”
The article does not reflect any other attempts to corroborate this theory that Hammer was incapacitated — or even attempt to reconcile this theory with Hammer’s acknowledgment in his interview with Air Mail that a sexual encounter took place on the date, though Hammer described it to Kirchick as a “consensual non-consent scene.” (“Were any other sources aside from the medical records showing physical therapy appointments consulted to ascertain Hammer’s physical condition in April 2017?” was one of the questions The Fine Print submitted to Air Mail.) For example, the story does not mention that, two weeks before the alleged rape, Hammer appeared on the April 10, 2017, episode of the Russian late-night talk show Evening Urgant taking part in a game called “Hammer Time,” in which the actor and the host took turns trying to hammer nails into a block (he swings his hammer with his right arm), followed by Hammer exuberantly waving his arms along with a group of dancers. The television program seems to show a man without mobility limitations.
Not all sexual assault allegations mentioned in the article received similar skepticism. In one of the article’s more prominent news-making elements, Kirchick writes, “At the age of 13, Hammer says, a youth pastor at the church his family attended sexually abused him for a period lasting nearly a year.” The reasons Kirchick gives for believing this is Hammer’s word and that of a close family friend. “At the time, Hammer says, he told only two people about the abuse: an older friend (who has since died) and his godmother, Candace Garvey (who corroborated his account).”
Another recurring pattern in Air Mail’s story about Hammer is that much of the information that is presented as new has been circulating online for years, often on Substack, Twitter, and Instagram accounts dedicated to exonerating Hammer and disparaging his accusers. For instance, as fact-checking on Kirchick’s story was underway, according to someone familiar with the story, Air Mail received additional material from Hammer’s publicist, which contributed to a narrative that Effie began stalking Hammer after the alleged rape. A striking amount of the information cited by Air Mail also appears in a lengthy Substack post from August 29, 2022, titled “The Stalker,” which seems to have been written by someone with access to a similar dossier of information as the one obtained by Kirchick. Air Mail and Kirchick did not answer our question of whether these accounts, which have in recent days been enthusiastically promoting Air Mail’s Hammer story, were used as sources. However, Kirchick is one of the less than 1,200 people who follow the Substack’s associated Twitter account.
The similarities between the August Substack post and Air Mail’s Hammer story can be spooky. Kirchick writes: “In October 2017, six months after the alleged rape, she followed Hammer to the London premiere of Call Me by Your Name. In video taken that day from the red carpet, she can be seen standing behind Hammer in the crowd.” The Substack post opens, “In a bustling crowd in London, the woman with the shockingly-bright magenta pink puffer in a sea of black and grey was hard to miss. … This was October 9th, 2017, and Armie Hammer was walking the red carpet at the BFI London Film Festival for the premiere of Call Me By Your Name.” Unlike Air Mail, the Substack post includes a video still pointing out a blurry image of Effie standing in the crowd behind Hammer during a red carpet interview.
Kirchick writes: “The following September, [Effie] took a road trip through Italy and stopped in Crema, the picturesque village where the film was shot. While there, she tracked down [Call Me By Your Name director Luca] Guadagnino and posed with the director for a selfie.” The Substack post reads, “In the fall of 2018, for example, Effie and a girl friend took a trip through Italy and, notably, the Italian countryside in and around Crema, where CMBYN had been filmed, visiting sites specifically linked to the film.” And unlike Air Mail, it includes a photo of Effie with Guadagnino.
From the Air Mail story: “The following spring, [Effie] traveled to the Cannes Film Festival, where she met up with a group of other Hammer fans expecting to see the actor.” The Substack post again includes this information, but with even more detail: “Later, in May, 2019, Effie tried once more to force an encounter with Armie Hammer by showing-up, again uninvited, at the Cannes Film Festival. … Through social media, Effie connected with other CMBYN fans prior to this particular trip and coordinated a meet-up, lying to give fans the impression she was ‘going there for Armie.’”
After Air Mail published its article, Effie responded to these claims, among others, in a series of Instagram stories. She wrote that she flew to London at Hammer’s request and added, “I went to the Cannes Film Festival because another guy invited me.”
In the editor’s note, one of the pieces of new reporting that Carter and Stanley highlight are versions of text messages that “until now had been edited to showcase only Hammer’s proclivities. We are publishing those message streams in full.” That appears to be a reference to a screenshot of sexually explicit messages purportedly sent between Effie and Hammer after the alleged rape took place. Kirchick notes, “Hammer’s lawyer Andrew Brettler contacted multiple media outlets with text messages she had sent to his client,” and adds, “Only the Daily Mail chose to publish them, and in heavily redacted form.” However, when comparing the versions of the screenshots published by Air Mail and the Daily Mail, the only differences are that the Daily Mail blurred out 19 words, presumably due to editorial standards barring sexually explicit material. If there are any new revelations to be had from this “unexpurgated exchange,” Air Mail does not identify them. As for the most critical claim related to the messages — that they were sent after Effie alleges Hammer raped her — there is another discrepancy between the two outlets’ reports: The Daily Mail cites a statement from Hammer’s attorney that Effie sent “sexual texts as recently as July 18, 2020.” Air Mail states — without identifying any source — that the messages are “Dated July 8, 2020 — more than three years after the alleged rape.”
While much of the evidence Kirchick relies on are screenshots of text messages, his piece never explains how or from whom Air Mail came to obtain these messages or how they verified that they are accurate, how they know who is talking in the conversations, or when the text exchanges took place. (Included in our questions to Air Mail were: “How did Air Mail corroborate that these messages are authentic? Or what dates they were sent? Or that the discussions were about Hammer?”) However, even without knowing those things, it’s apparent that Air Mail includes mischaracterizations because — ironically, for a story that criticizes other outlets for “heavily redacting” — uncropped versions of the screenshots have been circulating online for the last two years. In a pair of particularly problematic sentences, Kirchick writes, “On January 8, 2021, two days before going public with her initial accusations, [Effie] shared a D.M. to an Instagram follower that stated the sex she had with Hammer was ‘consensual,’ that he was ‘such an amazing Daddy,’ and that he ‘is not dangerous. He didn’t rape anyone.’ The following day, asked by another follower if she had ‘legal representation,’ she responded, ‘I’m not saying he raped me, no need for legal rep.’” The errors and mischaracterizations in this passage are difficult to keep straight.
- The first of those sentences gets the date when Effie first made her allegations wrong: it was early on January 9, 2021, Eastern European time, late on January 8, U.S. time, but wider coverage did not start appearing until January 10 when Armie Hammer’s name began trending on Twitter.
- Nothing in the messages, either in the versions shown in Air Mail’s story or the fuller versions previously posted elsewhere, dates these conversations, let alone to “the two days before going public.”
- The quotes in the first sentence are taken from three separate conversations. In the fuller versions, the conversations where the “consensual” and “amazing Daddy” quotes come from do not have any reference to Hammer.
- The message with the quote “he didn’t rape anyone” has also been previously cited by pro-Hammer social accounts, and it has the most mysterious provenance: It first appears in a video posted on YouTube on January 13, 2021. The video has a fuller version of the conversation in which someone identified as Effie seems surprised by a message from someone she does not know. The sender starts with a series of questions: “Your stories about Armie Hammer? What did he do to you? is he dangerous?” and “he made you sign NDA?” Effie purportedly responded, “Why would you even ask me that?” Nothing in the video indicates the date of the exchange.
- The second sentence quotes a screenshot in which Effie supposedly says, “I’m not saying he raped me.” This has also been widely circulated, including in the March 2021 Daily Mail article, which relied on information provided by Hammer’s lawyer. The Daily Mail noted that the message “does not refer to Hammer by name.” Nor do the two outlets agree on the date it was sent: While Air Mail claims it was on January 9, 2021, text pasted onto the screenshot the Daily Mail published claims it was sent on January 21.
One of the reasons to doubt Hammer’s accusers that Air Mail staffers have cited multiple times is that no criminal charges have been filed against him. “There’s been no legal adjudication of any of these allegations,” Kirchick told The Hill TV, adding, “that naturally interested me as a journalist, and I wanted to find out more.” There is, however, no reporting at all in his resulting story about law enforcement activity. The closest it gets is: “A request for comment on the status of the investigation sent to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office was not answered.” Even so, the piece gets some readily checkable details wrong. Kirchick writes, “On March 18, 2021, the Los Angeles Police Department opened an investigation into Hammer for sexual assault.” In fact, that is the date a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson told E! that Hammer is the “main subject” of an investigation its Operations-West Bureau Special Assault Section opened on February 3, 2021 after being “contacted by an attorney representing a female community member.”
Towards the end of the piece, Kirchick quotes from a 142-page “psycho-legal evaluation” begun in early 2021 and conducted in the Cayman Islands as part of Hammer’s divorce proceedings with Elizabeth Chambers. The article quotes some of Chambers’s most extreme claims against him — Hammer was “grooming girls as young as 15,” “17 girls have come forward with rape allegations,” and “Mr. Hammer has put in writing that he wants to kill his children” — as well as those made by Effie, who spoke to the evaluators, and allegations by a Colombian man identified as Daniel that Hammer abused him. Ultimately, though, the piece sides with the report’s conclusions, which echo Air Mail’s own: “There is a cluster of Mr. Hammer’s behavior that can be explained by the symptomology of being a survivor of child sexual abuse” and “Mr. Hammer has certain preferences of BDSM practices which are fetishes and not crimes.” The evaluators also criticize Chambers, writing that it was “concerning that most of the collateral sources provided by Ms. Chambers were [women] who have allegedly been raped by Mr. Hammer. This casts a doubt over the intentions of Ms. Chambers as she seems wrapped up in this narrative.”
If Kirchick had made a more concerted effort to dig into the alleged victims’ sides of the story, he might have obtained audio of the interview that Effie participated in with one of the psychologists working on the evaluation. The psychologist did not respond to requests for comment, but the voice of the interviewer in the recording obtained by The Fine Print sounds the same as the voicemail greeting message for a psychologist in the Cayman Islands with the same name.
It’s impossible to capture the horror of the audio in text, to convey the bottomless hurt that bursts out in sobs that constrict Effie’s voice. “Why are these girls not coming forward?” the interviewer asks. “What do you mean why? There’s so many reasons,” Effie responds. “They’re so scared of him. They’re so fucking scared of him. They’re so scared of him and his friends. And they’re scared they’re not going to be believed. It’s not so easy to come out and say, ‘Oh, I got raped by this actor.’ There’s so much backlash and so much hate. People on the Internet are so cruel and so vile. They’ve been harassing my family, they’ve been harassing even my classmates from kindergarten, they’ve been posting nude photos of me. They’ve been doing so much harassment non-stop — 24/7. I get people sending me rape threats and death threats and saying they want to throw acid in my face and saying that they want me to get gang-raped and that I deserved it and that I’m a whore and calling me a liar. Why would the others, seeing that I get this kind of crap, why would they come out? It’s not safe, and to be going through something so traumatic and to be trying to make it through without falling apart — even though everyone’s falling apart every day — why would they come out?”
Perhaps listening to this recording wouldn’t have ultimately changed Kirchick’s verdict or given Air Mail editors further pause about running their Hammer story. Still, it’s hard to believe that absorbing so much raw, untapped pain wouldn’t have made him less dismissive. But to a source familiar with the story, anticipation and excitement of publishing a viral hit left little room for such reflection. “Air Mail knew it was sitting on a story that was gonna get a lot of clicks. And, that’s the name of the game these days,” said a source familiar with the story. Consequently, some details merited closer attention than others. “The PR person,” communications director Harrison Vail who just began working for Air Mail this month, “came up with an entire media plan about how the story was going to go out, which tweet was going to go where and when, and how it was going to be presented and stuff like that. So that was unprecedented.”