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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