“Mike was the first reporter to capture the Bradley personality and the political defects of that personality,” says John Harris. The Bradley folks complained a bit. Then, they complained a lot. They booted Allen from the campaign for, in their view, violating the understanding that what happens on the campaign plane is off the record. The offending story was one Allen wrote for the Post’s Web site about Bradley feigning a heart attack (when his health was a campaign issue) and mimicking Al Gore for reporters on the plane. But Allen wasn’t on the plane. He got the story from reporters who were. “How can something be off the record when you weren’t there?” asks Allen. “It was a tense time for them. I understand if they wanted to blow off a little steam. We’ve all moved on.”
Moving on—to the next story, the next whatever—is Allen’s preferred state of being. It is difficult to know where work stops and the rest of his life begins. “I don’t know that the place ‘outside of work’ exists for Mike,” says Bob Kemper. Mercifully, the Post expanded the use of its Web site last fall with an afternoon online edition. It provides the ideal outlet for Allen’s abundant stray voltage, liberating him from those pesky print deadlines, which, even for the big stuff, can only stretch to 1:30 a.m. Maralee Schwartz says Allen writes for the Web every day, and even writes stories for the Web that don’t go into the paper. When he found himself on the West Coast with the Bradley campaign, Allen would crank something out for the Web site before the bus left around 7:30 a.m., because, he says, there wouldn’t be any events before the noon eastern deadline. In May, when New York Mayor Giuliani withdrew from his Senate race, Allen says he did his “personal best”: five stories in six hours, four versions for the Web, and a thirty-five-inch story for the paper. You get the sense Allen would bring the same joyful doggedness to a Prince George’s County sanitation board story. “Any job I’ve had, I could do it forever and have a great time,” he says.
The thing is, you believe him. Giving a tour of the Post newsroom late one night, Allen’s reverence for the place is obvious. He rouses cartoonist Herb Block, who is still working at 10:30 p.m., for a brief introduction. We go to Broder’s office, which is a disaster, stacks of books and papers everywhere, a chair turned upside down in the middle of it all. We peer into Bob Woodward’s darkened office. “When I worked here the first time, I didn’t know where it was, and everyone who came to visit wanted to see it,” he says. At Allen’s own desk we pass without stopping. I note that the nameplate atop his computer reads: Mike Alen. Why doesn’t he ask them to fix it? “Hey, anyone can have Allen spelled with two Ls,” he says.
He lives within walking distance of the Post, and tells you this like it was some great coup. “When I was in the Alexandria bureau I lived right across the street,” he says. It is midnight on a Tuesday. The streets around the Post are empty. Allen, just blocks from home, hails me a cab and waves goodbye. As the cab pulls away I turn to see him, fortified with iced tea, heading back inside.