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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  • Mon-Dragon

    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.

  • Seth Norman

    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."

  • 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.

  • Dena

    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.

  • http://seeingblack.com Esther Iverem

    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 http://www.SeeingBlack.com in 2001: Here is the link: http://www.seeingblack.com/x040901/robeson.shtml

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  • http://www.katherinerlewis.com Katherine Lewis

    Sigh. I miss the newsroom.

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  • John McBeth

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

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  • Charles

    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.

  • Mike

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

  • ddahling

    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.

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  • hank burchard

    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

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  • http://www.clickedit.me Word online

    Interessant, merci du partage :)

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