In the old days (old, meaning, prior to the 1980s in this case), newspapers were long associated with the cliché of hard-drinking real-life journalists such as Lucius Beebe, H.L. Mencken, Bob Novak (who has been associated with the motto of “better journalism through whisky”) and their fictitious counterparts, such as legendary scotch aficionado Lou Grant. To get a sense of how badly the culture of the newsroom has changed, when the Cincinnati Post folded at the end of 2007, a sign there posted read: “Please do not bring any alcoholic beverages into the newsroom. Let’s go out like the professionals we have been these last, difficult weeks.”
Today, the Washingtonian breathlessly reports a story that what have gone unnoticed during the Lou Grant era:
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.
Who doesn’t doubt that during the era immortalized in Ben Hecht’s The Front Page, there was the occasional brawl, drunken or otherwise in a city newspaper’s bullpen? There was also a certain amount of actual journalism taking place. That’s very much in contradistinction to today’s neutered, state-run media, which exists far more as a gatekeeper to prevent inconvenient truths about sacred leftwing cows from entering the public consciousness, than to actually break news.
Almost two years ago, in a satire titled “Bylines of Brutality”, Iowahawk brilliantly forecasted today’s rumble in the sandbox, by reminding readers of previous journalistic train wrecks:
A Denver newspaper columnist is arrested for stalking a story subject. In Cincinnati, a television reporter is arrested on charges of child molestation. A North Carolina newspaper reporter is arrested for harassing a local woman. A drunken Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member is arrested for wife beating. A Baltimore newspaper editor is arrested for threatening neighbors with a shotgun. In Florida, one TV reporter is arrested for DUI, while another is charged with carrying a gun into a high school. A Philadelphia news anchorwoman goes on a violent drunken rampage, assaulting a police officer. In England, a newspaper columnist is arrested for killing her elderly aunt.
Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence of that America’s newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters? Answers are elusive, but the ever-increasing toll of violent crimes committed by journalists has led some experts to warn that without programs for intensive mental health care, the nation faces a potential bloodbath at the hands of psychopathic media vets.
“These people could snap at any minute,” says James Treacher of the Treacher Institute for Journalist Studies. “We need to get them the help and medication they need before it’s too late.”
Katharine Graham tried to smooth over the rough veneers of golden era of newspapers with her mid-century attitude of “Mass With Class.” But it was only a matter of time before the paper’s true, thuggish nature was revealed once again. Though don’t expect anyone to crack open a bottle of J&B and start producing real news anytime soon, when there are plenty of Macaca boilerplate and political fashion stories to phone in.