Stephen Henderson says he disagrees with Free Press firing, is exploring legal action

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On Monday morning, Stephen Henderson took to his show Detroit Today to discuss his firing from the Free Press on Friday, where he shed light on what led the paper to fire the Pulitzer Prize-winner opinion page editor.

On Friday, I was terminated from my role as columnist and head of the editorial page at The Detroit Free Press. As a journalist and as the ongoing host of WDET’s Detroit Today, my most important asset is the trust that listeners, viewers, and readers have in me to tell the truth.

So I want to start by telling you what happened.

The newspaper’s action on Friday was set in motion two weeks ago when a local minister claimed in a press conference that complaints about sexual harassment had been made against several Detroit media personalities, including me at the Free Press.

There were no such claims.

But the allegation prompted the newspaper to conduct its own review of my work and interactions with colleagues, a review I encouraged and supported.

I spoke candidly and openly about every potentially relevant interaction I could recall with a colleague.

The newspaper’s review of my ten years in management at the Free Press found instances with two female employees in which my interactions, in social situations outside of work several years ago, were deemed inappropriate. One situation involved sexually themed conversations with an employee; I had encouraged that employee to disclose this interaction. In the other situation, a co-worker who was a manager in another department reported two rejected advances that she said made her uncomfortable.

Neither of the co-workers involved had come forward or filed a complaint before the outside allegations were made against me. There are no other allegations. I have maintained professional friendships and good working relationships with both of these colleagues. The Free Press told me that neither of the two women want to take any action.

The newspaper and its corporate owner, Gannett, still decided to end my employment, saying my conduct violated the company’s standards. I disagree with that decision and outcome, and I am exploring legal action.

But I want to make a few things clear before we move forward. I want to apologize to the women involved. It was bad judgment, on my part, to have engaged in either situation. As a senior leader at the Free Press, I should have acted more responsibly. I also want to apologize to Free Press readers, to our listeners here at WDET, and to viewers of Detroit Public Television.

On this show, we have spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking and thinking about this critical moment where our country is more openly confronting sexual harassment and gender dynamics in the workplace and holding accountable men who have done harm. I will not shy from that conversation in any way and, as always, I will welcome your voice and thoughts in the conversation.

The "local minister" mentioned was Rev. W.J. Rideout III, who called on Henderson to be fired from all of his jobs. "What he’s done over there he’ll do it anywhere," Rideout told Metro Times after Henderson's firing. "If you're a predator in one place you'll be a predator somewhere else." Rideout was suspended from his job at WFDF (910 Superstation) after making the allegations against Henderson and others, because station management found them to be unsubstantiated.

In the call-in portion of Detroit Today Monday, Henderson addressed Rideout's initial accusations.

"One of the things that I think is important to note is that the original allegations made against me two weeks ago were proven false… or at least without evidence," he said. "I think the Free Press, at minimum, over-reacted to the things they did find as a result of their inquiry, but the truth is, we got that part right, we got it right that the allegations made against me were not true and I think we have to stick to that. We have to believe that truth wins at the end of the day."

Henderson also seemed to offer up a theory of why people like Rideout would go after him.

“There’s no question I had a lot of enemies in that job," Henderson said of his role as opinion editor at the Free Press. "I made a lot of enemies in that job because I said things that were unpopular, I said the things that I believed, I said the things that I knew to be true and reasoned, and that puts you in a position where a lot of people dislike you.

"One of the ironies I think is … I’ve seen a lot of liberals taking glee in this because they think I wasn’t liberal enough, or African-Americans who have a problem with me not being as focused on race the way they are… there’s a lot of people who have issue with me.”

Following Henderson's statement, WDET general manager Michelle Srbinovich issued the following statement:

On Friday, December 15th WDET was made aware of the Detroit Free Press’s decision to terminate journalist Stephen Henderson for misconduct following an internal investigation.

Based on the information currently available, WDET did not see cause to terminate Stephen Henderson’s contract at this time and we made the decision to have him return to our airwaves as the host of Detroit Today on Monday, December 18th.

Our leadership team has strived to create an organizational culture that is respectful and inclusive. We have proactively and repeatedly encouraged staff to review our policies regarding sexual harassment and assault, and to come forward with any claims of inappropriate behavior within the workplace.

To date, WDET and our license holder Wayne State University have not received any complaints against Henderson during his time as a contracted host.

However, given the action taken by the Free Press and our commitment to providing a safe environment for all of our employees, WDET will conduct an independent, station-wide investigation to ensure that our staff has the opportunity to share their concerns and report any incidents that require further examination. Any situation that compromises university policies will be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

As a public institution, WDET is committed to transparency. We place a high value on trust and recognize that it is only possible if we can communicate honestly and authentically, engage respectfully, and hold one another accountable. To that end, we will continue to ensure that we not only address any concerns raised by our staff but also those raised by the wider community we serve.

About The Authors

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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