Times are tough in the news business. Nerves are on edge. Perhaps that explains why a veteran Washington Post editor punched out one of his colleagues on Friday, turning the staid newsroom of the storied paper into a boxing ring.
In the incident, which took place directly in front of executive editor Marcus Brauchli's office, features editor Henry Allen lived up to his reputation of being tough on his beat, issuing a smack-down on feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia. Brauchli rushed to separate the two journalists.
Allen, nearly 70, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, and a retired Marine who served in Vietnam, was reportedly "revolted" by a feature package put together by one of his writers.
The altercation was apparently over a "charticle" -- a peculiar journalistic invention that fuses text with graphics, and is widely disdained by many traditionalist reporters.
According to The Washingtonian's Harry Jaffe, "the incident began when Style Editor Ned Martel assigned a semi-political story to Monica Hesse and Roig-Franzia. Playing off of an inadvertent disclosure last week that many congressmen are being investigated for ethics violations, Martel asked the two Style writers to compile a list of similar disclosures in the past. They came up with a 'charticle' with a dozen examples, starting with Robert E. Lee's Civil War battle plans for Antietam showing up wrapped around cigars."
Charticle was 'second worst story in 43 years'
Allen apparently did not approve and let his charges know of his dissatisfaction, saying, "This is total crap. It's the second worst story I have seen in Style in 43 years." Hesse was apparently reduced to tears by the verbal barrage.
Meanwhile, Roig-Franzia had walked into the newsroom and wandered over to his colleagues. Hearing Allen berating Hesse, Roig-Franzia reportedly said, "Oh, Henry, don't be such a [expletive]." (For the full quote, click here.)
That's when Allen "lunged" at Roig-Franzia and started throwing punches at the one-time foreign correspondent as the newsroom dissolved into chaos. Brauchli, the executive editor, rushed out of his office and separated the two men like a referee. At least one punch reportedly found its target -- Roig-Franzia's head, according to MediaBistro.
The offending "charticle" can be found here.
Allen mourned journalism's bygone glory
Jaffe, D.C.'s longtime gossip scribe of record, reported that "veteran Style writers said they knew Allen wasn't happy. He had come up in Style's heady days, when writers could wax for a hundred inches on the wonder of plastic lawn furniture or the true meaning of the Vietnam War Memorial. No more. Working part time on contract, Allen seethed over the lost art of long-form journalism."
"We take this incident seriously and will address it appropriately," Brauchli told Politico
Update: Allen has been banned from the newsroom. But it's not that bad: The 68-year-old retired Marine, who bemoaned journalism's decline and the passing of the golden age of news, was already set to retire on Nov. 28 anyway, after he accepted a buyout from the paper. "The last time I threw a punch at anybody was in the spring of 1963 in Parris Island, South Carolina, in Marine Corps recruit training," Allen told the Washington City Paper, which has gone and made a dramatization of the incident.
Correction: The initial headline on this story stated that Allen was 70 years old. The editor is actually 68 years old.
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