Freep’s Henderson fired after probe into behavior

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson was terminated from the Detroit Free Press on Friday after the newspaper’s editor said an internal investigation found inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues stretching back several years.

Free Press Editor and Vice President Peter Bhatia declined to comment directly to The Detroit News, instead redirected inquiries to a story published on the Free Press’ website.

“This is a devastatingly sad day for us at the Free Press. Stephen is a magnificent journalist and a treasured colleague who has done so much for Detroit,” Bhatia said.

He said the incidents involving inappropriate behavior and comments directed at Free Press employees run counter to company policies and practices. There were no accusations or evidence of sexual assault.

Bhatia said there would be no further comment from the Free Press.

“Out of respect for the privacy of the women involved and Stephen, we have no further details to share,” he said.

Reached by The Detroit News via Facebook, Henderson, 47, said he was “stunned.”

“I dedicated 18 years to this newspaper over three decades, all of it performing at the highest level,” Henderson said. “I may have more to say on this later, but for now, there is much other work to be done here in the city of Detroit.”

According to the Free Press, Gannett Co., which owns the newspaper, released a statement Friday that said Henderson would no longer be employed by the newspaper as of Friday.

“The decision was made after an internal investigation was conducted which uncovered credible allegations that Mr. Henderson’s behavior has been inconsistent with company values and standards,” the statement said.

Henderson, who was managing director of opinion and community engagement at the Free Press, is also host of “Detroit Today,” a daily show on WDET-FM (101.9).

WDET General Manager Michelle Srbinovich said the station will investigate Henderson.

“Despite WDET management repeatedly encouraging staff to come forward with any claims of inappropriate behavior within the workplace, Wayne State has not received any complaints against Henderson during his time serving as a contracted host at WDET,” Srbinovich said.

“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.”

WDET “Detroit Today” show producer Laura Weber Davis posted on Facebook Friday night that Henderson will be on the radio show on Monday.

“I will be proud to be producing that program with him as the host, as I am every day, and as I am proud of the work we do together,” Weber Davis wrote, referring in addition to their “Created Equal” podcast.

Henderson also hosts “American Black Journal” and is a contributor for “MiWeek” on WTVS-TV (Channel 56).

“We are going to look into the facts of the matter, put two shows on hiatus until the end of the year,” said Marty Fischhoff, director of communications and community engagement at DPTV.

Henderson’s termination comes amid accusations made by the Rev. W.J. Rideout III against Henderson as well as WXYZ-TV’s Malcom Maddox.

Maddox was placed on leave earlier this month amid allegations of sexual harassment leveled by the Detroit pastor.

Rideout, meanwhile, was suspended from his show on WFDF-AM (910) after questions were raised about the validity of his claims of sexual harassment against WXYZ (Channel 7).

The alleged sexual harassment victims referenced by Rideout have not been identified.

Henderson won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for coverage of Detroit’s financial crisis.

He was one of 57 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit winners in 2015, landing him $150,000 for a project to turn his abandoned childhood home in Detroit into a space promoting literary arts.

Henderson graduated from the University of Michigan. He also worked at the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Lexington Herald Leader and Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau.