Gar­ri­son Keil­lor fired

Pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion sev­ers ties with for­mer host of folksy show


“Prairie Home’s” cre­ator ac­cused of “in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior.”

Gar­ri­son Keil­lor, one of the na­tion’s most lauded hu­morists, was fired Wed­nes­day by Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio over al­le­ga­tions of “in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior” that oc­curred while he was in charge of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion,” his long-run­ning va­ri­ety show heard na­tion­wide by mil­lions ev­ery week.

Keil­lor, 75, who re­tired from the show last year and did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, de­nied any wrong­do­ing but de­scribed what he be­lieved to be the al­le­ga­tion against him in an email to the Min­neapo­lis Star-Tri­bune.

“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.”

Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio did not im­me­di­ately con­firm whether this al­le­ga­tion was the rea­son for his fir­ing and de­clined to give ad­di­tional de­tails on the ac­cu­sa­tion in ques­tion, in­clud­ing whether it was sex­ual in na­ture. The news broke hours af­ter an­other en­dur­ing broad­caster, “To­day” show host Matt Lauer, was fired by NBC for “in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­ior.”

“Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio is ter­mi­nat­ing its con­tracts with Gar­ri­son Keil­lor and his pri­vate me­dia com­pa­nies af­ter re­cently learn­ing of al­le­ga­tions of his in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior with an in­di­vid­ual who worked with him,” said Angie An­dresen, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for the sta­tion.

Keil­lor spent his ca­reer creat-

ing and tend­ing to a fic­tional place called Lake Wobe­gon, “the lit­tle town that time for­got and the decades can­not im­prove.” His ra­dio show, “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion,” launched in 1974, stitched to­gether old-timey jin­gles for fic­tional brands of bis­cuits and acous­tic per­for­mances by guest mu­si­cians. But the heart of the show was Keil­lor’s sto­ry­telling — a slow, art­fully ram­bling mono­logue about a stoic heart­land com­mu­nity.

By the 1980s, Keil­lor had won a Pe­abody, and the show was one of pub­lic ra­dio’s big­gest cash cows — as pop­u­lar as pub­lic-ra­dio jug­ger­nauts “Car Talk” and “Mar­ket­place,” and ca­pa­ble of match­ing the au­di­ence of the Satur­day TV base­ball Game of the Week.

Keil­lor was shy, wry and un­read­able in many ways, but his grave per­sona cre­ated an Amer­i­can en­ter­prise as fa­mil­iar and cozy as a hearth.

His pro­gram, de­spite its sense of place, was a road show, with a trac­tor-trailer full of sets and props and a trav­el­ing crew of stage­hands, producers and per­form­ers who spent long hours to­gether in col­lege au­di­to­ri­ums, civic cen­ters and ho­tel rooms.

Keil­lor has been mar­ried three times. One of his long-term girl­friends worked with him on the show. But three long­time mem­bers of the show’s staff, who asked not to be named be­cause they don’t know the de­tails of the new ac­cu­sa­tion, said that Keil­lor’s shrink­ing de­meanor and so- cial awk­ward­ness were a far more pow­er­ful part of his per­son­al­ity than any for­ward­ness around women.

“The guy screams ‘fa­therly,’ ” one long­time fe­male staffer said. “He was awk­ward and fas­ci­nat­ing and lovely.”

On the road, Keil­lor kept mainly to him­self, holed up in his ho­tel room to write his weekly mono­logue. Writ­ers would join him to work over ma­te­rial, but those en­coun­ters were of­ten stilted and quiet, the co-work­ers said.

In 1994, Keil­lor ad­dressed the Na­tional Press Club and de­fended Bill Clin­ton against a bat­tery of ac­cu­sa­tions, call­ing him a “soul­ful man” who “got him­self elected with­out scar­ing peo­ple.” Keil­lor warned that so­ci­ety should try “not to make the world so fine and good that you and I can’t en­joy liv­ing in it.”

He added in his hang­dog bari­tone: “A world in which there is no sex­ual harassment at all, is a world in which there will not be any flir­ta­tion. A world with­out thieves at all will not have en­trepreneurs.” Twenty-three years later — amid a reck­on­ing of work­place be­hav­ior that has felled politi­cians, TV an­chors and Hol­ly­wood heav­ies — a viewer is left to won­der: Was Keil­lor be­ing straight, or satir­i­cal?

In 1998 Keil­lor wrote “Wobe­gon Boy,” a novel about a ra­dio host who is wrongly ac­cused of sex­ual harassment and fired by his sta­tion.

On Tues­day, the day be­fore his fir­ing, The Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished his opin­ion piece ridi­cul­ing the idea that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) should re­sign over al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual harassment.

Calls for Franken’s head are “pure ab­sur­dity,” Keil­lor wrote, “and the atroc­ity it leads to is a code of pub­lic dead­li­ness.”

Keil­lor, an avowed Demo­crat, last year be­came a weekly colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Post News Ser­vice and Syn­di­cate — mean­ing he was a con­tract writer, not an em­ployee with a desk in the news­room. Many of his col­umns took mourn­ful aim at Pres­i­dent Trump, who “would have en­joyed the 17th cen­tury,” when “the idea of priv­i­leged sex­ual ag­gres­sion was com­mon in high places.”

Richard Al­da­cush­ion, gen­eral man­ager and editorial direc­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Post News Ser­vice and Syn­di­cate, said there was no re­vi­sion of its re­la­tion­ship with Keil­lor as of late Wed­nes­day. The or­ga­ni­za­tion “takes the al­le­ga­tions against colum­nist Gar­ri­son Keil­lor se­ri­ously and is seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about them,” the syn­di­cate told its clients Wed­nes­day.

In his email to the Star-Tri­bune, Keil­lor shared other thoughts. “If I had a dol­lar for ev­ery woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down be­low the belt­line, I’d have at least a hun­dred dol­lars,” he wrote. “So this is po­etic irony of a high order. But I’m just fine. I had a good long run and am grate­ful for it and for ev­ery­thing else.”

Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio said it has re­tained an out­side law firm to con­duct an “in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion” into the al­le­ga­tions. The sta­tion will stop dis­tribut­ing and broad­cast­ing “The Writer’s Al­manac,” a show Keil­lor still pro­duced af­ter re­tir­ing from “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion.” The lat­ter show, which will be re­named, has been hosted by Chris Thile since Keil­lor’s re­tire­ment.

In 1998, when “Prairie Home” was on 433 sta­tions and in the ears of 2.5 mil­lion lis­ten­ers, a Wash­ing­ton Post reporter spent a week with the show to write a pro­file of Keil­lor. One day, af­ter re­hearsal, the host gath­ered his cast in his ho­tel room for wa­ter and ap­pe­tiz­ers.

“Care for a so­cial mo­ment?” he asked.

The group stood around awk­wardly for a few min­utes, and at one point they all tried to speak in the voices of a va­ri­ety of an­i­mals — whale, walrus, horse, bird — which pro­vided a chance to ex­hale and chuckle. But af­ter a short time, Keil­lor brought the so­cial mo­ment to an end.

“I might write some­thing new,” he said, which was the in­vi­ta­tion for his guests to file out of the room.


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