OK, now something good about the Washington Post. This crusty old Marine veteran of Vietnam (as I learned the first and only time I ever called someone an “ex-Marine,” there are no “ex” Marines) at the Post called a colleague’s shitty story a shitty story in a story meeting. That was too real for the offended writer, who told his much-older critic to stop being a cocksucker. So the old dude, Henry Allen, clocked the guy. Bravo. Maybe Allen shouldn’t have been so harsh on the younger man, Manuel Roig-Franzia. But still, you use that word on another guy, you should be prepared to fight.
And so here’s Allen, with no evident regrets, telling my old friend Mike Calderone that media people who focus on this incident only reveal how soft and tender they themselves are:
“Back when I got into journalism, the idea that a fistfight in a newsroom would turn into a news story was unthinkable,” Allen said when reached Monday evening. “The guys in the sports department at the New York Daily News, they had so many, you wouldn’t even look up.”
Now, I don’t mean to act like some tough guy, and I get that continued gawking at Allen, especially with the glee that I evince, is part of the problem that Allen diagnoses. No argument there. But we in journalism have lost a passion and a no-bitch-ass-ness attitude that Allen possesses, and I think is more blessing than curse to the trade. And this is a trade — not a profession. It’s a mission, not a career.
I’m not saying that we should go around acting like pugilists. That’s just its own brand of preening, soft pretension, as the farcical life of Norman Mailer demonstrated. But I am saying that we need to return to the crusading, no-nonsense, fact-never-fiction, unafraid-to-give-offense first principles that ultimately protects democracy. Verbal pugilism, not literal pugilism. Get back to rapping; we’re T-Paining too much.