“It’s disappointing and discouraging. I felt humiliated,” Donahue told The Washington Post. Early Wednesday, Donahue’s editors published her first-person account that publicized Lucido’s alleged comments. Donahue was not recording the conversation but said she transcribed the senator’s remarks “within seconds.”
She told him shortly after that she found the remarks unprofessional.
Lucido, a newly elected state senator representing Michigan’s 8th District, initially downplayed the incident before apologizing for the “misunderstanding” and “offending” the reporter. Then, speaking to The Post Wednesday night, he denied making the remarks that Donahue described and faulted her for misinterpreting him.
Despite Lucido’s claims of a misunderstanding or a message taken out of context, his critics have argued that a lack of empathy for the harassment female journalists regularly face is a problem itself.
Donahue’s account is “sad and incredibly common” for women in journalism, said Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute. Citing a 2014 report by the International Women’s Media Foundation, McBride said nearly half of all female journalists report being sexually harassed on the job — and that’s even before the awareness brought on by the #MeToo movement. The report defines sexual harassment as a range of actions that include unwanted touching, suggestive remarks or sounds, sexual jokes and unwanted comments on clothing or appearance.
“What’s more disheartening is that it’s still happening.” McBride told The Post.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) condemned Lucido’s alleged remarks as “very unacceptable” hours after Donahue’s account went live Wednesday morning. By late afternoon, he and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D) issued a joint letter to the Senate Business Office requesting an investigation into Lucido for sexual harassment.
“The Senate does not sweep things like this under the rug,” Ananich told The Post in an email. “This is not escalation, this is holding people accountable for their words and actions.”
The alleged incident unfolded Tuesday when Donahue asked the senator to comment on a recent report that identified him as a member of an anti-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) Facebook group that regularly espoused deeply violent, misogynistic and Islamophobic views. He told the reporter she would have to wait until after he met with the students. As Donahue was walking away to wait, that’s when she said Lucido made the alleged comment asking her to stick around so the boys could “have some fun.”
“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,” Donahue wrote in her narrative.
Half an hour after the alleged remarks, Donahue returned to get the comment for the story she initially sought, but first flagged Lucido’s earlier remark. When she told the lawmaker his comment was unprofessional, Lucido cut her off and said she had gotten it wrong. A recording of that exchange is embedded in Donahue’s first-person report.
Lucido’s alleged remarks drew bipartisan criticism from several state lawmakers and Michigan progressive groups after Donahue’s account went live early Wednesday. Soon after, the Detroit Free Press reported that “Lucido did not dispute the quotes” but said they had been taken out of context and blown out of proportion. He reportedly balked at the notion he should apologize, the paper reported.
By midday, Lucido wrote on his official Facebook page, “I apologize for the misunderstanding yesterday and for offending Allison Donahue.”
But after the letter from the Senate leadership, Lucido directly disputed Donahue’s account to The Post and said that his Facebook statement was an apology for the misunderstanding and not sexist comments, which he denied making.
“If the statement was inaccurate that Ms. Donahue quoted, then there would be no need to apologize,” Lucido said. “If the quote she stated in her article is different than my quote, then it’s inaccurate.”
He described his remarks as an invitation to the young visitors to explore the Senate. “Let’s all go on the Senate floor and have some fun,” he said he told Donahue and the boys.
“I realize saying anything to somebody can be misinterpreted by putting a square peg in a round hole,” Lucido said. Asked about the letter calling for a sexual harassment investigation, the senator said, “I don’t know. I think they’re following protocol.”
As Lucido pushed back against the allegations, Donahue stood firm in her reporting and her recollection.
Still, she said the senator’s denials were hurtful.
“If his intentions were really to invite me into the chamber to take photographs, 30 boys wouldn’t have laughed; there was always a punchline there,” Donahue told The Post. “I’ll go to bat for every single word I wrote.”
By late Wednesday, Lucido and Donahue had not spoken directly. She said she would welcome a dialogue with the senator and hopes that as a lawmaker in a position of power, he’ll reconsider how he talks to women.
Since Donahue covers the statehouse, the two will interact again soon. Regardless of what happens next, Donahue said she won’t change how she reports on the senator.
“I have no intentions of covering him any differently,” she said.
If Lucido is found to have acted inappropriately, he could face disciplinary action that could include being excluded from caucusing with party members, losing chairmanships or leadership posts, or being asked to undergo sensitivity training.