My last newspaper job was at the Washington Post. I wrote for the Style section from 1990 through 1993. I had a ball there.
The hands-down best writer on Style was Henry Allen. Every piece he wrote was an event. In 2000, he won a Pulitzer Prize.
One day, during my first year at the paper, Henry Allen said to me: “You got chops.” The rest of that day I was walking on air, boy. Never will forget it. “Henry Allen said I’ve got chops!”
Now comes this extraordinary gossip item from Harry Jaffe at Washingtonian magazine:
“Details are sketchy, but numerous witnesses report that veteran feature editor Henry Allen punched out feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia on Friday. ...
“It should be noted that Allen is nearly seventy, but he served in the Marines in Vietnam.”
According to Harry Jaffe, the incident began when another Style editor assigned Roig-Franzia and Monica Hesse a story about political secrets inadvertently revealed. The reporters turned in their piece. “Allen took a look and didn’t like,” writes Jaffe. “He started ranting about the number of mistakes he had found. ...
“Allen, according to sources, said: ‘This is total crap. It’s the second worst story I have seen in Style in 43 years.’
“Roig-Franzia then wandered into the newsroom. A veteran foreign correspondent, he has been turning out political features for Style. He heard Allen’s rant and stopped by his desk.”
Supposedly, Manuel Roig- Franzia told him, “Oh, Henry, don’t be such a cocksucker.”
Then... “Allen lunged at Roig-Franzia, threw him to the newsroom floor, and started throwing punches. Roig-Franzia tried to fend him off. [Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli and others pulled the two apart.”
Damn-near everybody I knew at the Washington Post is now gone. They took buyouts as the Post went about shrinking its staff. I chatted with a Style reporter just last week who said there’s a weird vibe in the air.
I had no idea how weird. (I also had no idea that Henry Allen could draw. That sketch above is a self-portrait.)
UPDATE (11/02/09): Meanwhile, blogger Matt Dornic of FishbowlDC posted this afternoon: “[W]e regret to inform you that our sources have disclaimed [Harry Jaffe’s] account saying, ‘Jaffe’s story is full of hyperbole -- it was a single punch and no one was on the ground.’ ”
More to come, no doubt.
UPDATE (11/02/09): Erik Wemple of the Washington City Paper reports that Henry Allen has been banned from the Washington Post newsroom. According to Wemple:
“That sanction is not as harsh as it sounds: Allen’s last day was to be Nov. 20. He is 68, had already accepted a buyout, ... and had already announced his retirement.
“Of his swing, Allen says, ‘The last time I threw a punch at anybody was in the spring of 1963 in Parris Island, S.C., in Marine Corps recruit training.’ ... Roig-Franzia hung up when called on this matter.”