Susan J. Demas: Michigan Sen. Lucido must be held accountable for his vile sexist remarks

The lawmaker deserves to be called out for his non-apology and gaslighting

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

By now, I hope you have read the first-person story by Advance reporter Allison Donahue in which she thoroughly details the belittling and sexist remarks made to her by state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) — some of which were in front of a group of Catholic schoolboys.

What Lucido did to Allison was needlessly cruel and completely unacceptable. And I believe that’s why dozens of state, national and international media have done stories on this and why there’s now an official Michigan Senate investigation.

The senator said many, many offensive things that, if he possessed a sense of shame, would prompt him to profusely apologize or resign. One of the most striking comments was when he first told Allison in front of the De La Salle Collegiate students: “You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.”

I tried to interview Sen. Peter Lucido. He told me a group of schoolboys ‘could have a lot of fun’ with me.

His defense when Allison confronted him was that he told a group of schoolgirls last week, “How would you like to have all the boys from the Senate come over?”

Would you want your children getting a tour of the Capitol from a legislator who makes disgusting sexual jokes at their expense and that of others? I sure wouldn’t.

One thing that I would like to state very clearly is that Lucido didn’t dispute what he said when Allison confronted him. If he really believed he was wronged, he wouldn’t have issued on Wednesday morning an “apology,” as pathetic as it was.

However, it should be noted that Lucido has never apologized to Allison directly — he refused to even tag her on Twitter, which is beyond cowardly — and he’s never contacted anyone on the Advance staff.

He dodged Capitol reporters all day, as everyone from the New York Times to CNN reported on his vile comments. And then in the afternoon, the usually media-friendly senator decided to return to his natural habitat on TV, where he lied about what happened and disparaged Allison, whining that the remarks were “blown out of proportion.”

This is gaslighting, pure and simple. There is absolutely no question that what Lucido did was wrong. And the most disturbing part is that he’s shown that he doesn’t believe that.

But Lucido probably wasn’t counting on the fact that De La Salle Collegiate would apologize and condemn his remarks. The school wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that it was “very sorry the reporter was put in this position” and said Lucido’s “improper” statements  “do not represent De La Salle nor the values and conduct we instill in our young men.”

That’s as clear as it gets.

I am not here today to write an artful column on the rampant problem of sexual harassment in journalism and politics. I am not here to make this my story about my experiences with this problem; this is Allison’s story and hers alone.

I am here because I support Allison 100%, as does the entire Michigan Advance newsroom. And I want to personally address Sen. Lucido, whose response has been abominable. Allison deserves better; women deserve better; and the people of Michigan deserve better from a public servant whose taxpayer dollars pay his salary.

I also would like to say a few words about Allison’s excellent piece. She patiently explained why Lucido’s remarks mattered, because he is a member of the Senate majority leadership team and chairs powerful committees. This was an abuse of power by someone trying to stop her from doing her job to report the news — and probably thought he could get away with it with a relatively new 22-year-old female reporter.

Allison honestly and eloquently wrote about why she decided to do so: “The situation made me embarrassed, it made me feel small and it made me want to walk away from the Capitol and tell my editor that Lucido wasn’t available to comment.”

She also showed an amazing ability to understand the bigger picture for women: “It mattered to me that I wrote this, because maybe Sen. Lucido, and likely many other men in power, will think twice about making comments like this anymore to the young girls who visit the Capitol on a field trip, or the female reporters who are there to get a quote for a story or their female colleagues who are there to do their job.”

Senate GOP leader calls Lucido’s sexist comments to reporter ‘very unacceptable,’ Lucido issues Twitter statement

I am in awe of Allison as a reporter and am proud to be her colleague. I would not have had the courage or wherewithal to write that story at that stage in my career — and I doubt many of us would have. She handled the ensuing — and unexpected — firestorm of media attention with grace and professionalism. She stood up because she didn’t want other women to go through what she has.

Allison didn’t want to be the story. No reporter does, even columnists. If your stories, columns and tweets are all about you, let’s face it: You’re probably off-track as a journalist. But sometimes there is a story only you can tell. And Allison did so beautifully.

I am extremely proud as Advance editor to have published such an important story. I am proud that we have the kind of newsroom where reporters are comfortable sharing unacceptable incidents like this with editors and fellow reporters and know they have management’s full support. Most of us have worked in newsrooms where this was not the culture.

This is exactly the kind of unflinching journalism the Michigan Advance set out to do when we started up a little more than a year ago.

And the hundreds of supportive comments from journalists and readers in Michigan and across the country have meant so much to Allison and our entire staff.

Senate GOP, Dem leaders ask for formal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Lucido

There’s also something else. When I read my long-ago colleague Chad Livengood’s take on the matter last night, one line kept sticking with me: “Anyone who knows Pete Lucido was not surprised by this allegation. It sounded exactly like something he would say.”

And yet, it was Allison Donahue, one of the newest reporters at the Capitol, who had the courage to speak up publicly when others had not.

That’s why it’s important to call out sexual harassment when it happens, so others are not subjected to it — especially those who aren’t in a position to speak out, for fear of retribution and losing their jobs. And, given our culture, it’s important for male journalists, in particular, to say something, because we all know that their voices give “weight” to the matter and signal that it’s a real problem for everyone to be concerned about, not just women.

But it’s Allison who deserves the ultimate credit for standing up for herself and others. Her story has already inspired many women to share their own on social media. That’s how cultural change ultimately happens, little by little.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.