He takes a licking and still is ticking. He’s down, but not out. He dusts himself off, picks himself up and tries to start again.
Jack Lessenberry, an original and stylish writer, wouldn’t use those cliches — though they fit his summer of re-emergence.
After public criticism by women who say he spoke and acted inappropriately, the Metro Detroit journalist has had a rough two months. Now he resurfaces with weekly columns at his first personal website and a two-hour talk show each weekday morning on WFDF-AM (910 Superstation).
A lengthy Deadline Detroit article May 17 ended his most important professional relationships — a faculty job at Wayne State, a weekly Metro Times column and a Michigan Radio commentary role. Seven months of reporting by Evelyn Aschenbrenner and Peg McNichol, 2004 journalism graduates of WSU, documented comments and behavior that made newswomen uneasy in Memphis and students uncomfortable in Detroit.
Lessenberry denies intentional wrongdoing. “These are entirely baseless allegations,” he responded in May to iMediaEthics, a non-for-profit news site based in Manhattan. “What they did regarding me was not journalism. I am confident I will be vindicated by Wayne State University following an honest investigation, which I welcome.”
The day Deadline’s article appeared, Lessenberry resigned as a weekly Metro Times freelancer because editor Lee DeVito suspended his column. “I decided – who needs this?” Lessenberry recalls as he revives the column at his site with the same name, Politics and Prejudices, and schedule (every Wednesday).
‘I sometimes am irreverent’
“I am back with what I hope will be even better columns than ever on this new blog, taking advantage of newer technology,” he writes, adding:
I have specialized in national politics and economics and especially the state of Michigan. And that is what this column has been and largely will be about.
Not that it will always be serious, though we live in serious times; I sometimes am irreverent, sarcastic, lighthearted – and the ultimate goal is never to be boring.
The reference to “taking advantage of newer technology” is puzzling. Past employers posted Lessenberry’s words — and voice, in Michigan Radio’s case — online years before their former contributor launched a site. And lessenberryink.com doesn’t have videos, podcasts or other “newer technology” yet. (The site is designed and maintained by Carly Adams of Farmington, a 2016 WSU journalism graduate.)
Six days after mid-May’s published revelations, Lessenberry left Michigan Radio, a group of three public radio stations. His departure, described as a resignation, formally takes effect July 31. He has been off the air since the May 23 announcement.
The third recent career bump is the biggest, financially as well as in impact.
‘Best to do so now’
Initially, he took a leave of absence as a senior lecturer at Wayne — where he earned $62,246 last year — to await an outside attorney’s investigation of complaints by past and current undergraduates. In late June, he retired after 25 years at the university because “I could no longer be effective in the current environment,” he told The Detroit News. “I had intended to retire from teaching next May, when I would have turned 67 and my current contract expired, but felt it was best to do so now.”
A formal inquiry by Tara Mahoney, a workplace harassment specialist at the Hognman law firm in Detroit, continues. Her report to WSU administrators is likely this summer.
In an email to The News, where he was national editor during the 1980s before moving to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Lessenberry says the new radio show “would have prevented me from teaching my normal winter courses.”
Broadcasts start Monday right after drivetime. “I look forward to having Jack join our airwaves and bring an eclectic viewpoint,” says WFDF owner Kevin Adell.
For his part, Lessenberry posts at his site:
Beginning July 9, I will be on 910 AM, a 50,000-watt superstation every weekday between 9 and 11, looking at major Michigan and national issues, interviewing people worth interviewing, doing my famous signature essays – and also hopefully talking with some of you.
I’m looking forward to this new adventure– and I hope many of the thousands of people who have read and listened to me over the years will enjoy it too.
Earlier on his Facebook page, the veteran journalist whose career is seriously shaken tells 5,000 followers:
I should like to thank those who believe in me and have appreciated my work for many years. I look forward to this [radio show], and the future.
So there it is — words and tone that reflect his brash, unabashed personality.
Loyalists can see resolve, resilience and resistance to going quietly into retirement. Others may sense arrogance, stubborness and a grasp for relevance.
The thing is, each view could be correct.