City Desk

Allen v. Roig-Franzia: From the Beginning

When one man hauls off and punches another in the face, the conflict often has a long-tailed provenance. Such appears to be the case with Washington Post Style section staffers Manuel Roig-Franzia and Henry Allen. Those two got into a tussle on Friday afternoon in the vicinity of Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli's temporary office on the 4th floor of the Washington Post building at 15th and L Streets NW.

Let's mark the start of hostilities as mid-week. That's when, according to an informed source, Allen raised questions about a Roig-Franzia story about a woman who had undergone multiple abortions. In the back and forth, Roig-Franzia allegedly called Allen a "dick." No punches were thrown.

Peace prevailed until Friday morning, when Style staffers convened to discuss their journalism. According to sources, Roig-Franzia at one point in the meeting reached across the table and grabbed Allen's notepad, tearing a page from it. Allen barked, "Give me my fucking notebook." Roig-Franzia complied, pushing it back across the table.

After that incident, not much went according to the Post Stylebook. Allen, an assignment editor for Style, learned that one of his reporters, Monica Hesse, had been tasked by Style co-boss Ned Martel to do a funny-type story coming off the big news on the congressional ethics investigation. Allen wasn't apprised that Hesse had been so assigned and let Martel have it. "Next time you want to assign a story to one of my writers, you come talk to me. I'm right here," Allen said to Martel, according to a Post source. They discussed the matter and came to an amiable conclusion.

The story then moves from errors of protocol to errors of journalism. Allen eventually got his hands on the copy that Hesse and Roig-Franzia had been dispatched to generate. It was a "charticle" on famous incidents in which key actors in history have unwittingly coughed up sensitive information to the wrong people.

One of the headlining incidents in the charticle was how a Confederate solider had lost some military plans of Robert E. Lee in a field that later found their way into Union hands. The original story reportedly said that the offense occurred in Virginia. Wrong–Maryland.

There were other errors as well.

Allen made clear his displeasure with the integrity of the piece, proclaiming that it was the "second-worst piece I've ever had handed to me in 43 years," according to a source. The first-worst was a mistake-ridden profile of Paul Robeson that never saw the printed page. Those 43 years include Allen's 39 years of service at the Post along with a tenure at the New Haven Register.

The veteran editor gave pretty much the same sharp-elbowed spiel to both Hesse and Roig-Franzia. Hesse responded by asking for the story back so that she could iron out some of the wrinkles.

Roig-Franzia responded by saying, “Henry, don’t be such a cocksucker.”

At that, Allen leapt into action, shoving Roig-Franzia. He then popped him in the cheek. According to an eyewitness account, Roig-Franzia didn't try to match the 5-11, 200-pound Allen punch for punch, instead opting for more of a civil-rights-movementy kind of stance.

Into the one-sided faceoff jumped Chris Richards, the Post's pop-music critic. One of the first responders, Richards stood between the hostile parties. Brauchli reportedly intervened as well.

After the set-to, Allen spent some time behind closed doors with managers. Brauchli told him that the Post just can't have this sort of conduct in the newsroom. Allen agreed. They left it at that.

Then it was on to the office of Style co-boss Lynn Medford, who was apparently briefed by Brauchli on what to say to Allen. Medford told Allen that Brauchli had said that this was a new era at the Post and we can't have violence in the newsroom. (What, did the smelling-salts lady take a buyout?) Another message from Brauchli to Allen via Medford: You can't come into the newsroom again for your entire career.

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, was working on contract at the time of his lunge, 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." Allen served in Vietnam for four months. Roig-Franzia hung up when called on this matter.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out City Paper's exclusive reenactment of this historic event: Allen v. Roig-Franzia ~ The Movie!

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  1. #1


  2. Comrade Al Gonzales

    I'm glad Hank Allen popped that cocksucker Roig-Franzia right in the kisser. Nicely done, Hank. Congrats & kudos.

  3. #3

    LOL Amanda!

  4. #4

    Henry Allen was my colleague for many years. He is a brilliant writer and editor (also a poet and novelist)and his place in any history of the Washington Post is secure.

    I remember reading a draft of the Robeson piece, which had been upchucked by one Esther Iverem and was laced with inaccuracies and wild flights of fancy that several editors and staff writers labored on for days to try to turn into English. For our efforts, we were called racists and butchers and even "honkies" (yes, as late as 1999).

    This is not to excuse Henry's outburst, only to note that newsrooms are tense places and that Post editors take a lot of flak from arrogant and unseasoned hires. The piece the Post published today was not so bad as the Iverem article but it was garbage all the same: I can only imagine what it must have been like in rough draft.

    I am grateful to CityPaper for giving us the back story. It makes what happened on Friday seem a little more understandable. I hope that Mr. Brauchli will weigh all sides of this matter before severing a connection to one of the Post's best writers.

  5. CCinVirginiaOrMaryland

    Wow! Listen, this is kind of embarrassing, but I once had a charticle, on my ass. It had to be lanced. You people have no idea how great I felt when THAT was over! Oh my gracious.

  6. #6

    As someone who recently canceled his subscription to the Post after more than 30 years, I wish all the best to Henry Allen.

    I only wish he had slugged more of those nitwits on his way out.

  7. #7

    What the hell is a charticle?

  8. #8

    Allen may be retiring, but from now on everyone who looks at Roig-Franzia will be thinking that he is a contemptible wimp. The Post would be better off if the likes of Roig-Franzia got promoted to their level of incompetence at some think tank or whatever, and they left grownups like Allen to run the paper.

  9. #9

    Maybe if Roig-Franzia called him a charticle sucker instead, Allen wouldn't have got the red ass and bitch slapped him.

  10. #10

    If Henry Allen clocked me in the face in a workplace setting - whether or not I deserved it - I'd designate that spot on my cheek a place on the National Journalism Historic Register. Then I'd spend every morning of my life looking in the mirror at the abrasion and laughing my ass off.

    We should all be lucky enough to be walloped by such talent.

  11. #11

    Allen should be terminated and lose his buyout. Assault at the work place is not tolerated. That behavior is not justified at all.

  12. #12

    Henry Allen in his SLEEP is a better journalists than most of the people I worked with in my newspaper career, including my seven years at the Wa Post. As for "workplace violence"--there's a difference between a deadly weapon and a fist wielded by a 60-something guy who last punched out somebody 40 years ago in the Marine Corps, for pete's sake. It used to be that newsrooms were places where the usual standards of decorum did not apply, which is why I loved them. Now newsrooms are run by buttoned-down corporate types and peopled by folks who take themselves terribly seriously. Their manners are certainly more refined than some of the people I used to work with, and arguably better than Henry's. But I'll take his brand of journalism over theirs any day.

  13. #13

    Is there any question that Henry Allen is the hero in this story? Roig-Franzia's work includes gushing profiles of the Obama dog, and his professional manner is heavily laced with penis-related jabs. There's no question that this hack deserved a Parris Island-style beatdown.

    Here's my rationale:

  14. #14

    Allen's absolutely right -- Monica Hesse is absolutely worthless. This is the columnist who squeezed a whole column out of making fun of a politician's first name.

    Monica, if you're reading this, please kill yourself. Thanks.

  15. #15

    “Next time you want to assign a story to one of my writers, you come talk to me. I’m right here,” Allen said to Martel, according to a Post source.

    Is this what's known as a hissy fit in defense of turf and "direct reports?"

    One might be forgiven for thinking polarization was complete with the Web folks on one side of the river and the print folks on the other. Maybe this is the intramural team? Let's see how many more ways we can get people to fuss with each other.

    Anybody actually covering anything over there? Or just waiting for handouts?

  16. #16

    I was once threatened with firing from that other paper in DC (It was the 90s and there were only two. You do the math.) for calling a useless flunky to a dangerously useless editor a "stupid motherfucker" over the phone. This was not long after a male reporter had punched his fist through a wall in an altercation with a male editor. And those weren't the only newsroom fisticuffs. I was praying for them to try to fire me, as it would have been LAWSUIT CITY -- men can fight but girls can't cuss?

    But even back before the newspaper industry flushed itself down the toilet, newsrooms were stressful places. Now? I can't imagine, as I'm out of the biz, how stressful it must be. If people devolve into violence, it's a symptom of much worse problems, generally problems that news management simply refuses to address.

  17. #17

    Is Roig-Franzia anti-gay? He's bascially using a description that gay males do as an insult to someone, no? How does Hesse feel about this? (Especially considering her own article fiasco earlier this year.)

  18. #18

    @End User: You never worked in a newsroom, did you?

  19. #19

    Augustus: so chris brown shoulda brought rhianna to the editor's office and THEN gave her the business? also, i heard al davis has already called hammerin' hank allen to fill a coaching vacancy...

  20. #20
  21. #21

    This sounds dangerously close like Season 5 of The Wire, with Allen playing the Clark Johnson role; maybe Roig-Franzia will get a Pulitzer out of the abortion piece after all. The Post Style section has devolved into stupid celebritology gossip and vapid articles about online trends & silly net tips from Chasing Amy.

  22. #22

    This is redic.

    If someone can't control their temper, they need to not work with people. Any people.

    Sure, the writer was wrong to call him whatever, but the editor should have never punched him.

    This is called human decency people. I think the only thing that makes it worse is that the editor them defends his actions!

    This isn't a man's world anymore sweetie and violence and bullying don't give you power anymore.

  23. Margaret on the Guillotine

    As a former Postie (wow, I've always wanted to say that), I can tell you that Manuel Roig-Franzia and Henry Allen are BOTH cocksuckers! Arrogant, pompous, self-absorbed dicks. But so are a large majority of the people who work in that place. It used to be that you had to put up with working with these asswipes because the journalism was so good. Now that the journalism is so bad, there is no need to put up with such behavior, which is why so many of the good journos have left.


  24. #24

    I'm sorry, a jounalist with decades of experience, a Jedi knight of the English language, calls a reporter's work, “second-worst piece I’ve ever had handed to me in 43 years,” and that's OK?
    If the objective is getting something whipped into shape for print, how is that a helpful or constructive comment?
    The only purpose of a remark like that is to belittle the writer.
    This has nothing to do with "brand of journalism" or even competence. Allen, in his paid role of manager, berated one reporter loud enough for witnesses to hear and punched another.
    He is a great writer, but his people skills(skills he was being paid for), were lacking.
    I have been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. Early on, I got yelled at a lot--often I deserved it--and learned to tough it out until I got better. But the best lessons were learned without bullying.
    Allen is the hero? I don't know how even he could write this particular story and come to that conclusion.

  25. #25

    Remember when the rules of engagement in newsroom fisticuffs were like the rules in hockey? If hit, you hit back. Everyone saves face and then nobody gets in trouble or you both get in trouble together. Thems wuz the days!

  26. Comrade Al Gonzales

    Back in the day, the pugilistic science was taught in J School. It's an integral part of being a good reporter.

    Good for Hank. I read some of the crap that the double-named guy has written, & some of the absolute drivel that silly Monica Hesse has written. Ms. Hesse is the epitome of the inane modern journo, self-confessional with boring sins & an even more dull wit. The double-named guy is just a twit.

  27. #27

    Interesting that on an important local election day, with this little brouhaha going on at WaPo, that at 3:30-ish Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth moved up on Farmville to attain the level of Kinderfarmer (source: her Facebook news feed).

  28. #28

    It's sad that a former Men's Vogue Editor (Ned Martel) is now #2 at the once legendary Post Style Section. No wonder Allen - an old-school, pain-in-the-ass veteran of the paper in its glory days, is disgusted. The new breed of insurance executives/lifestyle branders masquerading as Editors are driving forth the last of these folks. It's pretty pathetic the Post couldn't figure out a way to usher Allen out with a little more respect after the years he logged on 15th Street. Whether or not he lunged at the smarmy Roig-Franzia. Who, btw, is not gay, he was dating captivating battleaxe Ceci Connolly.

  29. #29

    I say again, what's Henry Allen's cologne? I mean, really, it's the Style section after all.

  30. #30

    WOW...human qualities in a wanna-be God-like, however Godless, news environ...I'll be G-Damned! (Great)
    Go Allen...and GO Allen!

  31. #31

    Thank God SOMEBODY

  32. #32

    I'm guessing that a "Charticle" is a glorified storyboard; More pictures than text to accommodate our ever-increasing illiteracy. If this answer seems correct to you, Press 1 now. Sister Mary Elephant is SO proud of her children.

  33. #33

    How dare Roig-Franzia call anyone such a thing...he should have taken the criticism and done his for Hesse, if she can't take the heat, then she needs to get out of the business. I find it difficult to believe she was reduced to tears, over a charticle?
    I have felt berrated by a colleague and simply put up a hand and said, in a very normal tone of voice, "that is enough, if you will excuse me" and simply walked away. Everyone has their moments. Grow up!!!!!! Henry, don't ever let another upstart push your buttons again, ever.
    Kiss Kiss nand make nice....R-F, you apologize first.

  34. #34

    The quality of news reporting these days fall short to say the least. And the disrespect thats allowed in the workplace by younger less experienced people is disappointing and contradicting. No disciplne for Roig-Franzia. He used sissy words and thought he was all that. Henry Allen is a true man. Passionate, respectful historian and soldier.

    Its no wonder the news industry has tanked regarding subscriptions and demand. The quality of writing and reporting no longer exists. Its sad to say the least ... Gen Y will never experience the pleasure of a good read, educational, passionate and accurate.

  35. #35

    I've enjoyed reading the comments almost as much as the story! I envision a tense newsroom environment with conflicting personalities, all trying to beat the clock while simultaneously striving to produce good product. What an exciting job!
    As for the "double-named", his attitude adjustment was well deserved, and apparently well executed. Ole Hank is not one to tolerate a vulgar, disrespectful, outburst from a junior. Hank is old-school. He has earned respect and "double-name" crossed the line of civility. I'll bet "double-name" now thinks twice before calling another Marine vet a (@#$%^^%$!)

  36. #36

    Calling Allen a gentleman and finger pointing the others???
    Come on. He referenced his f**king notebook. He's obviously past his prime at 68 y/o, and just because he's a VN vet doesn't give him license to throw punches, particularly in the workplace. Doesn't reflect professionalism in any shape, form or fashion. He should be fired without benefits and if I were the others, I'd sue his sorry as*.

  37. #37

    Great drama for the newsroom, thanks to a great writer on his way out the door.

    Both of these men are good at what they do and they can both be HUGE pains in the, uh, neck. But don't believe that Mr. Allen was put off by the language that Roig-Franzia used. The man swears like a sailor, or former Marine, and has been punitively abusive to many many a colleague over the years. He has threatened support staff with a "punch in the nose". Old school, definitely.

    Didn't see the blows land, but hope that Manual managed to get a decent bodyshot in before disengaging from the "c*cksucker".

  38. #38

    I get the Washington Post and I have to agree with Allen, that "charticle" was pretty bad, and the earlier one about the woman who had multiple abortions was bad.
    Most of the Post's Style section is pretty bad, though. It's not like those two articles were breaking ground.

  39. #39

    Roig-Franzia dated ken Starr stenographer ceci Connolly? He must be a total tool. He also sounds like a phobe. The Post has really gone down hill in the last 10-15 years.

  40. #40

    The charticle really does suck, and Allen was rightly embarrassed by it. It probably frustrates him no end to see that kind of schlock after he has devoted his life to writing and publishing stuff worth reading. So I can understand why Allen would react to some arrogant, ignorant little prick just sluffing him off with the "cocksucker" comment. Throwing a punch is probably not conducive to a productive working atmosphere at the Post, but Roig-Franzia did more damage by smearing yet another turd on the Post's largely-forgotten reputation for journalism excellence.

  41. #41

    I just hope Mr. Allen popped this smug faux-journalist a good one. No matter what your argument I say you wouldn't let some asshole talk to you like that on the street so why take it in the workplace? Editors are there for a reason, listen and learn. Some day you may be one. I would have kicked his ass down the stairs and out the door. And what is this crying shit? Lady, you are in the wrong profession.

  42. #42

    1. I date myself here, but if any man who ripped a page from my notebook would forever-after play the sax with one hand. Or, in this case, his piccolo, perhaps.
    2. Allen lived much of his life during a time when "fighting words" provided a legal defense. It's a quaint concept now, but many of us once believed words were powerful tools, even legitimate provocations to violence. I write today staring across knuckles scarred by this era, when epithets like "spic," "nigger" and "kike" seemed worthy of a response more vigorous than "Do you know how that makes me feel?"
    3. While there's not quite enough in this article to make a clear case, what I do see suggests Allen's objection to his colleagues' "charticle" rose from a conviction that its content and tone diminished the issue--that investigations of congressional corruption deserved something more than a "funny-type" piece.

    More evidence of an age now ancient, and an allegiance to old gray words and phrases: "Integrity," "Public Trust," and "The People's Right to Know."

  43. Former Postie Too!

    I love this forum, because so many of you really seem to know what you're talking about. Truth is, Henry Allen is a giant prick and has been since forever ago. "Double-named" is there because everyone else is gone. The Style section is a sad shell of itself (Hank Stuever? Monica Hesse? Chris Richards? So sad). How does it take two people to put that section out? I still subscribe, but often I just shake my head, and the Sunday paper is a joke. Is it any wonder Politico reigns supreme now, and that the newest Albritton venture is likely to kick WaPo's ass as well? I haven't worked at the Post for almost a decade, but it's still a big piece of me. I can't say that I miss working there though.

  44. #44

    I understand the stress in newsrooms. I'm retired myself, but I'm still alarmed by what passes for news these days.
    Still, there is a point where it could have been anything that set the two men off. In my working days, the most likely person to try to sabotage you wasn't one of your sources, it was the guy sitting in the next desk. Usually, there was one particular antagonist, but some days, it didn't matter who was there; I once slapped a guy I usually liked working with because he said the wrong thing at the wrong time, during a computer equipment failure way too close to our deadline.
    I remember seeing fists fly in the newsroom, and other arguments that nearly led to fisticuffs. I remember talking my way out of a fight with a 300-pound coworker once, and another time putting my fist through a plywood wall after an incident when I wound up in a dangerous situation, went missing without checking in for hours, and came back to the office covered from chest to toes in mud to the sole response, "You can't come in here like that."
    Stress can hit anybody. And, before you readers decide I'm some tempermental testosterone case, I will tell you I worked every day to keep my emotions out of my work because I didn't want to give any more ammunition to the guys who said "Broads don't belong in the newsroom."
    Newsrooms were never met to be polite, quiet libraries. If more spirited people were still in the profession, there would be a lot less fluff in print.

  45. #45

    I would not even bother to weigh in on Henry Allen but since my name and talent are being besmirched, here it is: It’s sad to think that 11 years after the fact Henry Allen has to cast aspersions on my Paul Robeson essay just because I wouldn’t change it to suit those only interested in Black people in narratives of pathology, ridicule or—in the case of Allen—cultural voyeurism and nostalgia.
    The Style editor at the time, David Von Drehle told me that Paul Robeson had “wound up on the wrong side of history” and that my piece needed to reflect that. I didn’t share VonDrehle’s view of Robeson or the world. My article was not “laced with inaccuracies” as who-the-fuck-is-that? David Summers says it was. It was just laced with a viewpoint not shared with by Allen and Von Drehle.
    Summers, who are you? I don’t even know who you are so I definitely never called you anything other than a lying sack of shit when I heard of your blog post an hour ago. I stand by my piece, which was the lead piece on the launching of in 2001: Here is the link:

  46. #46

    Sigh. I miss the newsroom.

  47. #47

    I'm with Allan. Half of the young punks in journalism today think they're wonderful because they have never had their butt kicked.

  48. #48

    Actually, I don't think Allen came right out and identified the Esther Iverem piece as the worst article ever in the style section of the Washington Post. That distinction emerged from various commenters, possibly attributing it to Allen. Only a matter of time before this whole episode becomes fodder for Trivia night at DC bars -- can a Trivial Pursuit question be far behind? Actually, I feel bad for her because once google links Esther Iverem with worst article ever in the Washington Post style section it will be hard to escape that.

  49. #49

    I'm pro-choice and I would have punched him that lousy abortion article... That was a horrible piece.

  50. #50

    While violence can't be condoned in the workplace, the simpering little prick was asking for it, and got it. At least Allen has skills.

  51. #51

    As a 35-year Postie who can barely bear to read the paper any more, I'm glad to see Hank Allen wind up his career with a bang sted a whimper.

    Hank Burchard

  52. #52

    Interessant, merci du partage :)

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