So, it’s been over a year since my last post, and I know I gotta get back in the saddle. While I have been writing and researching, it just wasn’t about food. As you well know, since last October, the #metoo movement has been all over the media, as allegation after allegation came out about many famous, influential men’s predatory and harassing behavior.
I have my own #metoo story: about a journalism professor I had back at Wayne State, Jack Lessenberry. He retaliated against me professionally after I tried to set boundaries with him about touching. (Just my shoulder. But still, he was mad.) He’s a long-time reporter, and was head of the journalism area at Wayne State… and worse, he was in charge of internships. If you were majoring in journalism at WSU, it was impossible to escape him. In Michigan, and especially metro Detroit, he’s a well-known columnist and journalist. The twist: in print, his politics are very liberal… despite his personal behavior.
Since he’s extremely well-connected in media, I knew it would be very, very difficult to get an article about his harassing behavior published. No one would want to be the first to go public against him. I’m grateful that Allan Lengel, editor at Deadline Detroit, agreed to take this project on and that he helped immensely to see it through.
It took seven months, and over 100 interviews, but it was published in May in Deadline Detroit, titled “Jack Lessenberry’s Long History of Questionable Behavior with Women.”
Because I was both a victim/survivor, I was asked to write a column about the reporting process. I was happy to, mainly to shed light on how someone who had been harassed could also report on her harasser— and remain objective. (I have to give serious shout-out to my reporting partner, Peg McNichol, for keeping me unbiased and focused!)
What I didn’t go into was how exhausting it was. Between the time difference (six hours!) and more importantly, the emotional drain, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Now it’s August. Lessenberry has resigned from Metro Times, Michigan Radio, and Wayne State. An independent investigation by an attorney found that Lessenberry would’ve been fired by WSU, since he violated their sexual harassment and discrimination policies. His reputation is badly damaged by the contents of the report, and the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter revoked his Lifetime Achievement Award.
Now, almost a month later, I finally feel like the shock has worn off. Part of me is deeply relieved that people are finally believing me about Lessenberry. However, the rest of me is deeply disappointed in his predatory behavior. I keep thinking I should work out how many women he harassed— between our articles, the attorney’s report, and the survivors who didn’t want to go on record— but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I wished I hadn’t been right about him. But I know that, for the next generation of Wayne State students, the atmosphere is safer.
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