In age of #metoo, can't we deplore the artist but respect his art?
The performance was canceled three hours before showtime, and The Eagle's arts and entertainment writer Benjamin Cassidy caught up with him at Eat on North, where Keillor displayed a stoic expression following his precipitous firing by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) over allegations of improper workplace conduct.
"It's all kind of bewildering to me," Keillor said at the time. Many of his admirers were equally bewildered.
Subsequent reporting by MPR News described "a years-long pattern of behavior that left several women who worked for Keillor feeling mistreated, sexualized or belittled."
I did my best to set aside my respect for his work over the past 40 years and memories of several friendly interactions with him over e-mail and in person, including a get-together at The Mount in Lenox for a writers festival in 2010 when he crouched down to make direct eye contact while chatting amiably with my son, then 6.
As objectively as possible, I concluded that while his accusers should be believed, the described transgressions did not justify wiping out his entire online archive of shows — an extreme step taken by MPR — and destroying his reputation as a brilliant writer, monologist and entertainer.
Here's an update as reported by Minnesota Public Radio's independent news department, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and other news sources in recent weeks:
- Minnesota Public Radio and Keillor reached an agreement that MPR would once again allow public access to thousands of past shows of "A Prairie Home Companion" (a 43-year archive) and "The Writer's Almanac," which the company had blocked when it severed ties with Keillor in November.
According to the Star Tribune, MPR will pay Keillor $275,000 owed from past contracts, while he agreed not to take legal action against the company. The agreement resolved all current and potential legal disputes involving MPR and its parent company, American Public Media Group, Keillor and his production company, Prairie Grand.
MPR management said an investigation concluded that Keillor had engaged in "dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents over a period of years," including "unwanted sexual touching." All the alleged misconduct cited by MPR involved a longtime female writer for the show. Keillor has said the relationship was mutual and that he backed off when the staffer complained in 2015.
"What the agreement means is that I won't sue MPR for damages, and they will allow `A Prairie Home Companion' and `The Writer's Almanac' archives to be available to the public again," Keillor said. "And it means that we move on to more interesting things, namely writing stories and creating a podcast. Compared to sitting in mediation, writing is one of life's great pleasures."
The archived broadcasts are available at prairiehome.org and writersalmanac.org.
- Keillor has resumed his weekly newspaper column (which was carried by The Eagle before it was canceled by the Washington Post syndicate).
This past week, he wrote a typically folksy piece about the late-arriving spring in Minnesota (as seen in the New Hampshire Union Leader) that included the following: "I walk around with a box in my pocket the size of half a slice of bread and it beeps and on the screen is a message from my daughter, `I love you, Daddy. You're the best.' We didn't have this back in the Sixties. Instead, there was anger and unrest, people marching with posters. Nobody back then walked around with a poster that said, `I love you, Daddy.' We still have posters, if we need them, but we also can love our fathers."
The previous week, he mused about the unnamed woman who should be the Democratic candidate for president in 2020: "I think she should make a big issue of illegal Canadian immigration. The northern border is 4,000 miles long, twice the length of the Mexican border, and it is porous: in many places, you can walk across it and not even know it. A wall is the answer, and it needs to be built soon. It would run through Lake Superior, which has an average depth of 500 feet and so that segment of the wall will be the Eighth Wonder of the World. It will need to be a high wall so that Canadians can't simply build catapults to hurl themselves over it."
- Potential revival of "The Writer's Almanac" appears likely, though not on public radio, where it aired from 1993 until last November. A Facebook posting "curated by Garrison Keillor and his staff" stated: "When you fire a retired person, you're apt to irritate him. ... With that, he announced his intention to bring back `The Writer's Almanac' via social media channels along with his hope to tour A Prairie Home Companion!"
With total respect for the #MeToo movement, it is now clear that not all alleged predators, harassers and tone-deaf male miscreants should be tarred with the same brush. Whatever he is, Garrison Keillor is in no way comparable to Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein.
Maybe we'll never know the full details of Keillor's transgressions. But many of us will always be grateful for the way he entertained us and stretched our imaginations.
Clarence Fanto writes from Lenox. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BE_cfanto. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.
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