UPDATE: Tell us what you think the #1 worst Style story is here.
It’s come to this: The Washington Post Style section, for years known as “the sandbox” because it was a playground for sometimes immature writers, has turned into a boxing ring because one of the editors was revolted by a story that came across his desk on deadline.
Details are sketchy, but numerous witnesses report that veteran feature editor Henry Allen punched out feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia on Friday. The fracas took place in sight of Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli’s office. Brauchli rushed to separate the two.
It should be noted that Allen is nearly seventy, but he served in the Marines in Vietnam. He also won a Pulitzer prize in 2000 for criticism. Both apparently came into play when Allen jumped Roig-Franzia.
According to many sources, 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.
Allen took a look and didn’t like. He started ranting about the number of mistakes he had found.
Hesse at one point asked him to send the copy back to her. She got a bit teary at the verbal beatdown.
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.
“Oh, Henry,” he supposedly said, “don’t be such a cocks—–.”
Allen lunged at Roig-Franzia, threw him to the newsroom floor, and started throwing punches. Roig-Franzia tried to fend him off. Brauchli and others pulled the two apart.
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.
After the brawl, Brauchli called Allen into his office and closed the door. Allen’s contract is up later this month.
Few Style writers expect to see him again.