Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University, Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst, and the host of the television program Deadline Now on WGTE-TV in Toledo, Ohio. He won a National Emmy® Award in 1994 for a documentary on Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
I was lucky enough to get thirty minutes on the phone with Jack as he drove along I-75 in Detroit, Michigan, presumably commuting to or from one of his many jobs. We spoke about his experiences living in and his views of the state of Michigan, his career in and the future of journalism, and the recently released book he co-wrote, entitled The People’s Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation’s Longest-Serving Attorney General.
K.M. ZAHRT: When you think of the Michigan experience, what do you think of?
KMZ: Do you think there is a way hard news can still be both profitable and a public service?
JL: We’ve got to come up with the right model, and nobody has done that yet. My theory on what will happen is that you will still have newspapers, but for a very small audience, for people who are willing to pay for this kind of information. But that bothers me, too, because, if you have a society with a very small group of people who know everything and great masses that are basically ignorant, that’s not a long-term prescription for socially stable society.
ON THE PEOPLE’S LAWYER:
KMZ: You have a book coming out this fall.
JL: It’s a book that I wrote with Frank Kelley, the former attorney general [of Michigan], who served as attorney general longer than anybody else in U.S. history. It’s his story, but I wrote it, and it’s called The People’s Lawyer. […] He saw himself as being the lawyer for the people of Michigan, for the various business interests, lobbyists, and unions. He felt it was his job to represent the public interest whether it was consumer protection or civil rights or exposing scams. Probably his most famous case was when he was the lead plaintiff in the famous [Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement], where every state gets billions of dollars — last year, for Michigan, was about $12 million — and he was very instrumental in that. This was also a man who knew John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy personally. He spent time by himself with John F. Kennedy, and what would be cooler than that?