Claims of inappropriate behavior by veteran Metro Detroit journalist Jack Lessenberry prompt colorful reactions on social media, on a local Reddit forum and at our site.
Comments about detailed coverage Thursday morning talk about "an open secret" and include a 2018 example of "abusive and threatening emails." Several question whether his roles as a journalism educator, columnist and radio commentator should continue.
"Everyone knew. No one did anything," posts Lansing public relations executive Jen Eyer, a former MLive Media Group engagement director. "What will the response be now?"
From Traverse City, former Detroit News copy editor Howard Lovy tweets: "I've heard the same, consistent kind of story from many people I've known in Michigan media over the decades."
A female journalist at The Blade in Toledo is repelled by part of the Wayne State journalism instructor's response to coverage of his missteps. Deputy editorial page editor Wynne Everett tweets:
What infuriates me most is the whole "Oh, the rules were different back in the day" defense. NO, the rules were never different. You just knew you would not be held accountable if you broke them.
Unspoken, but Not Secret
In Detroit, Jalopnik managing editor Erin Marquis calls the situation "a long-standing 'secret' in Detroit journalism."
Jean Johnson, a Detroit News designer since 2012 and a WSU journalism graduate ('08), posts: "These students deserve so much better." She uses the tag "#youdontknowjack."
The investigative reporting is by Evelyn Aschenbrenner and Peg McNichol, who earned journalism degrees in 2004 at Wayne, where Lessenberry has been on the faculty since 1993 and now heads the journalism area.
A sampling of reactions posted publicly:
- "If he doesn't recognize this as a legitimate news story, then obviously he's not the journalist he thinks he is." -- Karen Pitton, Ann Arbor
- "I heard murmurings about this when I went to Wayne State back in the late '90s [and] early '00s, though nothing specific. I was an English major and only took a few journalism classes, one with Lessenberry. I'd just like to point out that when I went into his office to ask about internships, he did not offer me a beer or comment on how beautiful my hair was." -- John Counts, MLive reporter
- "Journalist friends, was this an 'open secret' in Detroit? It seems pretty damning. Wayne State and Michigan Radio have some decisions to make." -- Lance Morgan, Beverly Hills management consultant
- "Michigan Radio, Detroit Metro Times, Wayne State University -- you have a lot to answer to. Hypocritically lobbing grenades at East Lansing, while you blithely allow this kind of scummy and predatory behavior in a faculty member/editor." -- Peter T. Graham, East Lansing
- "I know Jack and these stories are very disturbing. When there are so many women with similar stories you have to ask yourself 'why would they make this up?' His defense, that they are all liars, doesn’t seem credible." -- Katie Packer Beeson, political consultant in Alexandria, Va.
- "It does not at all surprise me he's another one of the manipulative dicks who's horrible to women. . . . Kudos to Deadline Detroit for working with Lessenberry's victims to find others and give them a venue to tell their stories." -- Dana Houle, Chicago campaign consultant
- "Letchenberry. Well, that's at least funny." -- Rebecca Hammond
- "Jack asks the readers of this article to ask ourselves: 'Are these allegations by a couple of scarcely unbiased women [reporters] a legitimate news story?' I just asked myself, Jack, and they are worthy of a news story. My ask of you in return, Jack, is that you keep your damn mouth and hands off the women in my community, or anywhere else." -- Annemarie Toebosch, Ann Arbor
- "Looking forward to his downfall. . . . Time for these misogynistic assholes to face some consequences for using their power to control, intimidate, harass and destroy. Times up, boys." -- Louise Ahearn, writer in Williamston, Mich.
- "This Deadline Detroit piece at last reports on what has been long known in the Michigan media world. After #MeToo I knew this had to come out eventually. I've heard the same, consistent kind of story from many people I've known in Michigan media over the decades. It may well be that Lessenberry sees himself as a victim of the times. I see him as an anachronism. Change or retire." -- Howard Lovy, Traverse City writer, WSU journalism graduate (1987) and past Detroit News copy editor (1995-99)
- "This could have been merciless hit piece, but you guys did a great job including Jack's defenses and keeping the tone fair. So much of journalism today has blaring tones that sound the publication's and author's agenda. . . You guys kept a neutral and fair tone to the entire thing." -- Jack Wheeler
- "I actually know one of the people who is cited in this article and don't think she would lie. I have some journalism major friends (I'm a senior at Wayne) and I've heard from a lot of them that Jack is a massive piece of shit." -- "Valgongatz" (Reddit thread)
- "I remember being at the Spirit of Diversity awards celebration a year or two ago and having him get up on the mic and compliment a student journalist's legs in a dress. I knew the girl and she looked so uncomfortable. Felt so bad for her. He's disgusting. I'm a journalism student." -- "IntenseGravity" (Reddit)
- "How does this man still have a job anywhere? And how is there nothing in his file about misconduct?" -- Pete Rivera, Pontiac
- "For obvious reasons, Lessenberry is displeased with dated allegations. That said, this couldn't be more ironic. If similar allegations were made against someone he politically despised, Lessenberry would take great pleasure in trying to throw dirt over that person's grave." -- John Sitkiewicz, Macomb Township freelance writer
- "This does not surprise me, based on my own interactions with him over the years." -- Kevin Ransom, Dearborn freelance journalist
- "Unfortunate, uncalled for, old school white male privilege." -- David Lossing
- "Journalism at its best -- excellent research and sourcing. Also, doing this piece took guts that most local media lack." -- Michael Stepniak, Detroit
- "Thank you for the strong and balanced reporting. This could have been a bloody hatchet job of a piece, but it wasn't." -- "GPforLife" (Reddit)
- "I am glad someone is talking about this." -- Patti Smith, Ann Arbor
- "Good writing, solid research. Good story." -- Diane Belk, Highland Park
- "Solid, courageous work." -- Aysha Jamali
- "Nice work by your reporters." -- Pete Vernon, Columbia Journalism Review writer
- "Thank you deadline Detroit for having the courage to publish tehis story. I hope it gets picked up nationally because he deserves that kind of attention." --Laura Coleman Noeth
In a Facebook post, former journalist Jen Eyer of Ann Arbor recounts strife with Lessenberry this year:
For the past five months, Jack has been trying to destroy my personal reputation. My crime? Publicly criticizing one of his columns back in December. For that, he:
- Sent me a series of abusive and threatening emails. I showed them to his editors at Michigan Radio. They did nothing.
- Carried out the threat by posting lies about me on social media.
- Sent an email to a powerful person connected to the [Pat Miles] campaign I was working on, lying about me, calling me "bizarre" and suggesting I be fired.
- Obsessively smeared me in multiple columns over the past few months, most recently just a couple of weeks ago in the Metro Times where he called me an "odious woman." [Note: She refers to this column.]
I'm glad to see Lessenberry's deeply unprofessional conduct towards women finally being exposed.
But his editors at multiple publications also deserve scrutiny for their inaction. Everyone already knew what he's like, and no one wanted to do anything about it. In my case, they even continued to let him use their platforms to smear me. Will they finally do something now?
Eyer is a senior vice president at Vanguard Public Affairs in Lansing.
Another first-hand perspective emerged earlier from a 2014 WSU journalism alumna now working as a copy editor in Southeast Michigan. She asked reporter Ashenbrenner to withhold her name for privacy reasons.
The ex-student says Lessenberry kissed her cheek at a 2014 awards preentation, though she tried to lean away. Actions such as that and abrasive classroom comments "were so well-known among the women in the department," she says.
She didn't complain formally because "the possibility of repercussions is always in the back of your mind. . . . I don't want to cross this man. I don’t want to do a thing that would make him target me. . . . I just wanted to get out and move on."
Here's how she recounts the "extremely uncomfortable" cheek peck after a Spirit of Diversity awards ceremony:
"As we [she and her mother] were getting ready to leave, I saw Jack speaking to one of his colleagues… . . . [I thought], now I can go out the door and never see him again. And that will be that. When he saw me walk by, he turned away walked toward me and called my name.
"I knew I couldn't pretend like I hadn’t heard him. He approached me -- not head-on, but from the side . . . my right side facing him. I was facing toward the door, I turned at an angle, not fully around. I was hoping he would say some quick farewell or good luck. Instead, he grabbed my upper right arm and pulled me close to the point where I had to lean to not fall over. I was not comfortable with this contact.
"Then he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. I instantly turned my head away. He gave me a peck on my right cheek. I was extremely uncomfortable. . . .
"If you had asked me at the time if that was sexual harassment or miscdcont, I would have said no . . . just a creepy old guy doing creepy old guy things. He comes from a different era. People did things differently back then. When a man in a position of power does something that makes you uncomfortable, it's easy to write it off, just let it go.
"If something like that had happened today, I would 100 percent completely view it as inappropriate. . . . It’s kind of sad, the things we are able to minimize or repress. Four years later, I have a much better understanding of power dynamics after having been in the industry. . . .
"That single incident in that building made me think that any opportunity that he could offer me would not be freely given. It would come at a cost that I would not be willing to pay. . . . That experience, combined with his [attitude of] 'I'm going to be rude and condescending to everyone until you’ve proven yourself worthy,' is why I've not been in contact with him since I graduated."