WaPo Editors Brawl In Newsroom!
November 2, 2009 2 Comments
Extra Extra, read all about it!
All hell broke loose in the Washington Post newsroom on Friday!
An editor made a reporter cry! Another reporter called the editor a “cocksucker!” The editor punched the offending reporter in the face!
The editor-in-chief had to break up the fight!
This amazing bulletin was just submitted to the ROTI offices by the legendary C. Dave with the annotation, “Newsroom brawl!”
The story is beginning to spread far and wide across the interwebs, but the Washingtonian’s Capital Comment blog seems to have the most gripping account. [Crucial UPDATES from the Washington City Paper: see below.]
ROTI is here to bring you all the background you need to get a good, long belly laugh out of these dead-tree denizens clobbering each other as their industry collapses…
It all began when a staffer for the Congressional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, a/k/a “The Ethics Committee,” put a confidential report on a public web server.
One of those darned pesky members of the public found it, and next thing you know, reports of ethics investigations into shady Reps like John Murtha, Charles Rangel and Jane Harman were splashed across the front page.
“Cyber-hacking!” the committee chairwoman redundantly cried, but in fact, this was just another case of putting your business out on the Internet and having it blow up in your face.
In the newsroom of the Washington Post, the reporters all giggled at Congress’ ineptitude.
“Let’s write a story on this blunder,” said Style editor Ned Martel.
He summoned two of his faithful lieutenants to tackle this tale – because a story like this requires two brains to dome.
Reporter #1 was the esteemed author of foreign bulletins and political puff pieces, Miguel Roig Franzia.
Here’s one of Roig-Franzia’s hard hitting pieces on the White House:
Who let the dog out?
That’s the Washington mystery du jour.
The identity of the first puppy — the one that the Washington press corps has been yelping about for months, the one President Obama has seemed to delight in dropping hints about — leaked out yesterday. This despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon.
The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin’ senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The girls named it Bo — and let it be noted that you learned that here first. Malia and Sasha chose the name, because their cousins have a cat named Bo and because first lady Michelle Obama’s father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. (Get it? Bo . . . Diddley?)
Bo’s a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House, he’s got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee.
You’d think that a journalist of this caliber would be good to handle this by himself, but just to take the story to the next level, he was tag-teamed with another reporter.
None other than controversial-to-the-gays Monica Hesse!
Ms. Hesse got herself in some hot water this summer when she wrote a mildly positive profile of Brian Brown, proponent of anti-gay-marriage organization NOM.
The gay blogosphere (Gayosphere?) went ballistic when they read that their mortal enemy was being described in human terms. They let her know about it, and Hesse got her feelings hurt.
Sez the Ombudsman:
The Post recently featured a story by reporter Monica Hesse that ran on the front of the Style section while she was on vacation. The day before returning, she logged on to check e-mails — and wept.
She was buried by an avalanche of messages angrily attacking her lengthy Aug. 28 profile of Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the group leading the fight against legalization of same-sex marriage.
Hesse was stunned. She had expected to hear from anti-gay-marriage conservatives who might view the story as “snide.”
Instead, she heard from liberals who support gay marriage, accusing her of writing a puff piece about someone they believe fosters prejudice and intolerance. The story was shallow and one-sided, they complained.
Scores also contacted the ombudsman. It’s “one of the biggest pieces of crap The Post has published in recent memory,” wrote District resident William Grant II. “What’s next, a piece on how a KKK leader is just ‘someone next door’ and ‘really a nice person’?”
Personally, I thought the Brown piece was innocuous when compared to this piece of crap article Hesse wrote about getting married at age 26. “My Midwestern friends were all, finally, and my East Coast friends were all, have you been drinking??”
On the East Coast where I live now, at least among most of my friends, getting married is something you do after college, after grad school, after your 30th birthday, after your second solo climb of Mount Everest, after you successfully balance your checkbook for 16 months straight, after, after, after. In other words, getting married at 26 is pretty much like getting married as a fetus…
So the Midwest friends were supportive, as if they were welcoming me into their club, while the D.C., Philadelphia and Boston friends were just dubious, as if the club I wanted to join was for insane people.
Maybe that’s because your East Coast friends remember when you were supposedly a lesbian five minutes ago…I’m just saying. It might have helped to disclose that information before you waste my time with your stupid article.
P.S. Tons of East Coasters get married at 26. You’re an idiot.
Roig-Franzia and Hesse put their heads together and decided the best way to cover the “file-on-the-wrong-server-blunder” story was to make a charticle – a graphic-slash-story listing mistaken releases of information through American history, going back to the inadvertent release of Robert E. Lee’s battle plans for Antietam.
Their finished product was passed along to veteran Style editor Henry Allen.
Allen, a Pulitzer Prize winner, tough-as-nails Marine, and Vietnam Vet, is almost 70 and mighty pissed about the ways of the modern newspaper:
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.
Here’s a sample of Allen’s work, a post-mortem reflection on an encounter with John Updike:
On Christmas Day 1960, when I was 19 and had every intention of becoming the greatest living stylist in America, I opened a present, John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run,” and saw from the first few pages that as long as he lived — and he was only nine years older than I — I would not succeed. He was a dragon who would be unslayable.
Instead, he stalked me for 35 years, breathing the cool, ego-crushing fire of a style that didn’t just evoke reality but also seemed to violate one of our most ancient taboos, the one against the making of graven images — a style that created eerie holograms with 100 percent correspondence to the material world.
And then, one morning in June 1995, I looked across a gallery at the Whitney Museum in New York and saw him, the dragon himself. Taking notes like me, staring at the Edward Hoppers with mild eyes and beaked nose familiar from dust jackets, he seemed immense, “taller far than a tall man,” as Sappho described the god Ares. To speak to him or not to speak? I remembered that he reviewed art for Barbara Epstein at the New York Review of Books. We were working colleagues for a moment, Updike and I.
I approached a slender, slightly stooped man who shrank reassuringly as I neared him.
“Aren’t you John Updike?” I asked.
“I seem to be,” he said in a low, careful tenor, the voice of a friendly dentist reminding you to floss, but a dentist who might have something going on with the receptionist.
It was a pleasant little joke on both of us.
This dude does quality work, and he does not suffer fools.
According to the Washington City Paper, a feud between Roig-Franzia and Allen had been brewing for some time, basically owing to Roig-Franzia being a weiner:
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.
Henry Allen took a look at the crappy Roig-Franzia-Hesse charticle and went freakin’ ballistic…
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.”
Good God, man — what was the worst? The City Paper says it was “a mistake-ridden profile of Paul Robeson that never saw the printed page.”
With Hesse in tears (again) and the grizzled Allen on a rampage, the time was right for Roig-Franzia to roll his hyphenated self into the newsroom.
He took in the scene and said, “Oh, Henry, don’t be such a cocksucker.”
Here’s where it gets good.
According to the Washingtonian, “Allen lunged at Roig-Franzia, threw him to the newsroom floor, and started throwing punches.”
The City Paper says, “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.”
This all went down mere yards from the office of Editor-in-Chief Marcus Brauchli. He saw it all happen and flew to the scene to break up the fight!
This had to be a first in the relatively young tenure of Mr. Brauchli – a full out newsroom brawl that required the intervention of the editor himself!
When it was all over, the fist-throwing Marine got in trouble:
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.
Well, Henry Allen may not have a job at the Washington Post anymore, but we love his style here at ROTI.
He’s welcome to write and edit for us anytime – no word counts will apply.
All I ask is if you must punch me, Mr. Allen, please try to avoid my beautiful kisser.
UPDATE: The invaluable Gene Weingarten has an immensely excellent and satisfying take on the fisticuffs, and nominates his personal “Worst Article Ever”.
UPDATE to tha UPDATE: Here’s a very interesting comment left at the City Paper by David Summers.
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.