When BuzzFeed broke the news that the longest-serving current U.S. House member had settled a sexual harassment complaint, one notable thing missing from the coverage was comment from U.S. Rep. John Conyers himself.
That wasn’t surprising. The 88-year-old Conyers rarely gives interviews anymore, deferring to his staff to issue statements or simply not responding.
Congress was on break the week of Thanksgiving. Was there a chance he’d be home? News Editor Roger Schneider suggested that video journalist Mike Householder and reporter Corey Williams drop by Conyers’ Detroit home. Corey was about to leave for work and could meet Mike on his way.
They knew it was a long shot. Corey and Mike had been to Conyers’ house on Seven Mile Road before, and knew it was gated.
To their surprise, the gate was open when they arrived at about 9:30 a.m. They were even more surprised when Conyers answered their ring.
Conyers denied settling sexual harassment claims. Williams repeated the allegations. Conyers again denied them.
Conyers refused to go on camera but answered a few questions before someone’s hand appeared and slowly closed the door.
Before the door closed, Conyers gave Williams and Householder a major beat. He said he was aware of the BuzzFeed reports because his wife, Monica, had told him about them before she left the house. But he denied settling sexual harassment claims and other allegations of inappropriate touching of staffers. Williams repeated the allegations. Conyers again denied them.
Corey immediately phoned in the response to the bureau and the live story was updated to lead with Conyers’ response. Meanwhile, Householder gathered B-roll from inside the property and interviewed Conyers’ constituents in a nearby neighborhood for a video that accompanied the text story:
The denial was quickly picked up by numerous outlets – including the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, The New York Times and The Washington Post – with credit to the AP, noting that reporters went to his door. The widely-read afternoon edition of the Politico Playbook led with AP’s piece on Conyers.
A Detroit TV station that sent a reporter to Conyers’ house later was chased away from the property, now with the gate closed, by the interference-running Monica Conyers.
It was not until three hours later that Conyers' office issued a convoluted statement stepping back from his remarks, saying he was under the impression the AP reporter was speaking of "recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied." The contradiction, with credit to AP’s work, was noted in subsequent Page One reports by the Free Press and News, among many others.
For aggressive reporting that paid off with an exclusive on one of the week’s top stories, Williams and Householder share this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.