Less than a week after news of sexual harassment allegations spanning three decades, prominent Metro Detroit journalist Jack Lessenberry is off the air at Michigan Radio as its senior political analyst.
The separation is “by mutual agreement,” says the University of Michigan, the public network’s license holder. A Michigan Radio post Wednesday night says its “is resigning” as a contract contributor. The university’s wording suggests he’ll be paid through July.
This departure is the latest employment impact following a lengthy Deadline Detroit investigative report last Thursday about women’s complaints of comments and behavior that made them uneasy in a Memphis newsroom and at Wayne State, where Lessenberry heads the journalism program and joined the faculty in 1993.
The 66-year-old journalist resigned as a Metro Times columnist hours after publication of the allegation. The next day he stepped away from teaching and other student contact at Wayne until it finishes an inquiry into his conduct. That $62,246-a-year position as senior lecturer was his main job.
Also Wednesday, a Traverse City Record-Eagle editorial said it will “pause publication of his column while his employers conduct investigations.” Describing Lessenberry as a longtime contributor, the paper adds:
Truth, clarity and personal integrity are the hallmarks of our industry. . . .
In accepting the responsibility for writing the news, we also adopt the responsibility of holding ourselves and other journalists to the “public figure standard.” This means we address the news that happens to us, and to other journalists in the field.
The accused newsman’s primary remaining professional role is as columnist and ombudsman (reader representative) at The Blade, a daily newspaper in Toledo.
Michigan Radio reporter Steve Carmody cites last week’s coverage in Wednesday night’s news post:
Lessenberry’s resignation comes as a growing number of women accuse him of sexual harassment and other questionable behavior. . . .
The allegations, first published in an extensive article in Deadline Detroit, date back decades. The article quoted women who worked with Lessenberry and students he taught at Wayne State University.
One accusation includes inappropriate physical contact; others cite inappropriate remarks.
The political analyst had been a frequent broadcast and website presence at the three-station radio operation based in Ann Arbor, with at least two essays each week. His last work, a look at challenges for Democratic and Republican each political party’s candidates this year, was heard Tuesday.
Michigan Radio broadcasts at WUOM-FM in Southeast Michigan, WFUM-FM in Flint, and WVGR-FM in West Michigan.
Its license holder issues a two-sentence statement through UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald:
“By mutual agreement, Mr. Lessenberry’s responsibilities as a contracted contributor to Michigan Radio will end immediately. Mr. Lessenberry will officially resign from Michigan Radio effective July 31.”
The employer lets Lessenberry give his side via a one-sentence excerpt from a statement of undisclosed length:
“I am saddened by the events of the last several days and admit to absolutely no wrongdoing whatsoever, but [I] have decided to resign to pursue new opportunities and avoid distracting listeners from the fine work of Michigan Radio.”
The radio network had begun to hear from listeners on this topic, including these comments at its Facebook page:
“It is unacceptable to keep Jack Lessenberry on the air, given the vast number of women coming forward. This is not the time to side with creeps. I will withhold membership renewal until I hear of a satisfactory outcome to this.” — Abbie Gentry, Dexter
“I am thrilled that the MetroTimes has suspended Jack Lessenberry, and I hope that WUOM will do the same. It’s sad that men with so much power can take advantage of young women. Please investigate.” — Dawn Zuber, Plymouth
“Jack is defending himself based on anonymity of complaints. Women protecting themselves is to be expected and we should support them in their expression of wrongs. At minimum he should be suspended till Michigan Radio can assess the truth. It the wake of Nassar and MSU’s mess, I’d hope UoM would do better!” — David Roof, Grand Blanc
Lessenberry earned a UM journalism master’s degree in 1979 taught briefly at its Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
The newsman and educator mentions his reputation and WSU’s in a letter sent last Friday to Dean Matthew Seeger, his boss there. It’s posted by WDIV:
Dear Dean Seeger —
As I told you on the phone this morning, I have decided I would like the university to conduct an investigation into the allegations about my behavior at Wayne State University made against me by Deadline Detroit.
I think this is entirely appropriate, and I would like my name cleared. I also think it would be appropriate for me to step aside from teaching this summer during this process.
I care about Wayne State’s reputation as well as my own. I am ready to assist this investigation in any way, and to assist and brief whomever takes over my courses for the summer.
I am very comfortable with you releasing this to the media if you so choose.