The public first learned that Garrison Keillor had been accused of improper behavior from Garrison Keillor. The humorist emailed an Associated Press reporter on Wednesday to break the news — and simultaneously issue a statement in his own defense — just hours before Minnesota Public Radio announced they were going to fire him.
Keillor wrote that he was fired over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.”
In the weeks since the New York Times and the New Yorker first reported several accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, a wave of victims have told stories about powerful men who allegedly used their positions of power to get away with sexual misconduct. Hours before Keillor was fired, NBC announced that it was parting ways with “Today” show host Matt Lauer over alleged inappropriate sexual behavior.
But Keillor’s response stands out as unusual for a person accused of improper conduct. In the 24 hours after his firing, he has spoken again and again about the allegations against him. So as a result, since MPR hasn’t shared specifics and the alleged victim hasn’t spoken to the press, the only one publicly telling the story of what Keillor did is Keillor himself. And many of Keillor’s biggest fans have chosen to believe the master storyteller.
Last year, Keillor retired from the show that made him — and to a great degree, MPR — famous. “A Prairie Home Companion” is still on air with a new host. But a month after learning of the allegations against Keillor, the public radio network has responded by appearing to re-create themselves as if Keillor never existed. On Wednesday, MPR said “A Prairie Home Companion” will get a new name. MPR will stop broadcasting old episodes of the show that Keillor hosted, and the station ended an agreement to broadcast and distribute Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac.”
Others followed suit: Keillor has lost his weekly column with The Washington Post syndicate for, it said in a statement, failing to disclose that he was under investigation when he penned his latest column in defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — who faces several accusations of improper conduct of his own. Several live performances have been canceled. Keillor has made clear his belief that he deserves none of these consequences.
Just after MPR’s announcement, which mentioned the alleged victim was “an individual who worked with him,” Keillor emailed another reporter to give his version of an incident:
“I put my hand on a woman’s bare back,” he wrote. “I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”
On Thursday, MPR told the Associated Press that the public radio organization had received “a formal complaint from an individual that includes multiple allegations related to Garrison’s behavior.” In a follow-up interview with the AP, Keillor clarified that he hasn’t seen the allegations MPR is investigating and that the story he shared publicly was the “only incident he could remember.” (The Post has emailed Keillor and has not heard back.)
After his Wednesday show in Pittsfield, Mass., was canceled, Keillor held court at a local restaurant, where he told a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle that he found the whole situation “bewildering.”
“I don’t think that people should talk out of bewilderment,” he said. “My situation is that I’ve worked extremely hard on a show that I love for almost 50 years, and somebody else can torch it in one morning, and so it’s all gone. And it’s a difficult thing to discuss.”
The Berkshire Eagle also reported that two people stopped by the table to tell Keillor they supported him:
“Listen, I think you’re amazing,” one said. “I just want to say: Don’t stop telling your stories,” said another.
More fans weighed in on Thursday afternoon, when MPR news host Tom Weber opened up the station’s phone lines and email inboxes to its listeners. The majority of callers and emailers were defensive of Keillor and critical of MPR’s decision to address the accusation by cutting ties with the humorist.
A man named Michael wrote in that “Keillor was convicted without a trial,” and that he would never give a dime again to the station. Charlene in Golden Valley was ending her membership with the station for “turning [Keillor] into a criminal.” Nan told the station it should be ashamed of itself. Another emailer used language that was unsuited to a radio broadcast.
Not everyone was swayed. Julie in Minneapolis said she was a longtime fan of Keillor but had long been troubled by what she described as “sexist” comments in his past work. Tom called in to chide other listeners for failing to discuss the harm caused to Keillor’s alleged victim. Lauren in St. Paul hoped that Keillor’s fans would learn from this that “your heroes might not be as great as they seem,” and that “it’s very obvious that there are men in power who are not very conscious of how they are towards women.”
According to MPR, dozens of listeners have said they will cancel their memberships over Keillor’s firing. But another listener wrote in to say they were “donating [to MPR] today to counteract some Keillor fanboy out there.”
“We understand that some listeners are upset and know that the limited information we’ve made available at this time may not seem to justify such a consequential decision,” MPR spokeswoman Angie Andresen said in a statement to the Associated Press on Thursday. “We want to assure that this decision honors the highest standards they’ve come to expect from us.”