When Garrison Keillor was fired for “inappropriate behavior”, the only explanation we got was Keillor’s: he’d merely touched a woman’s back, in an innocuous, friendly way. This has gone too far, some people raged, when harmless social behavior can get you fired! The problem was that MPR was silent. They gave no details about what had actually driven them to give him the boot, so only Keillor’s narrative was out there.
An investigation by MPR News, however, has learned of a years-long pattern of behavior that left several women who worked for Keillor feeling mistreated, sexualized or belittled. None of those incidents figure in the “inappropriate behavior” cited by MPR when it severed business ties.
Nor do they have anything to do with Keillor’s story about putting a hand on a woman’s back:
• In 2009, a subordinate who was romantically involved with Keillor received a check for $16,000 from his production company and was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement which, among other things, barred her from ever divulging personal or confidential details about him or his companies. She declined to sign the agreement, and never cashed the check.
• In 2012, Keillor wrote and publicly posted in his bookstore an off-color limerick about a young woman who worked there and the effect she had on his state of arousal.
• A producer fired from The Writer’s Almanac in 1998 sued MPR, alleging age and sex discrimination, saying Keillor habitually bullied and humiliated her and ultimately replaced her with a younger woman.
• A 21-year-old college student received an email in 2001 in which Keillor, then her writing instructor at the University of Minnesota, revealed his “intense attraction” to her.
MPR News has interviewed more than 60 people who worked with or crossed professional paths with Keillor. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they still work in the industry or feared repercussions from Keillor or his attorneys.
The article tries to portray both the good and bad sides of Keillor, but you can’t escape the broad conclusion: he was a bad boss, autocratic and oblivious, and was only tolerable while you were on his good side.
People who worked with him across the decades say Keillor could be funny, charming, compassionate and gracious.
By other accounts, he could be cruel and dismissive. The office was driven by his moods, former colleagues say. A common complaint is he would punish his staff with prolonged aggressive silence, as Fleischman described.
He also grew tired of and discarded musicians, writers and staff, many of whom had been loyal to Keillor for years. Some employees were terminated without warning.
I now understand better why MPR should have tired of supporting him. There’s still a mystery, though: none of the stuff cited in the article was part of the specific case that led to MPR firing him. Only one person, Jon McTaggart, president of MPR, “knew the content of the allegations against Keillor”, and those haven’t been revealed yet. I don’t think the story is quite closed.