Garrison Keillor, the founding host of A Prairie Home Companion, has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of inappropriate behavior, and he couldn’t help trying to turn his dismissal into a bit.
Keillor told the Associated Press he was fired due to “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.” He went into more detail in an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. 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.”
The Star Tribune added: “Keillor even managed a joke of sorts: ‘Getting fired is a real distinction in broadcasting and I’ve waited fifty years for the honor. All of my heroes got fired. I only wish it could’ve been for something more heroic.'”
He also suggested that he himself was the victim of sexual harassment from female fans, calling the allegation “poetic irony of a high order.”
Keillor retired as the host of his popular, long-running radio variety show in 2016, though he still tours and performs regularly. He is also the host of The Writer’s Almanac, a short, daily program about poetry.
Keillor had just defended Al Franken
Keillor’s dismissal comes only a day after he published an op-ed column in The Washington Post in support of fellow Minnesotan Al Franken, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by four women. Keillor argued that the photo of Franken pretending to grab radio host Leeann Tweeden’s breasts during a USO trip was done “in a spirit of low comedy,” and talk of the Democratic senator resigning is “pure absurdity” that leads to “a code of public deadliness.”
Howard Mortman, communications director of C-SPAN, notes this is not the first time Keillor has spoken against a culture of policing sexual harassment:
Keillor started A Prairie Home Companion in 1974, and it quickly became a beloved fixture of the American public radio landscape. The weekly broadcast was heard on hundreds of stations around the US by millions of listeners, featuring throwback musical acts, humor, and satirical skits.
The show remained relatively unchanged in its 43-year run and was heralded as a paragon of creative storytelling and wry humor. Each week Keillor would deliver a folksy monologue, “The News from Lake Woebegon,” of tales from his fictional hometown in Minnesota, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Popular segments included “Guy Noir, Private Eye,” the “Sounding Off” sound-effects story, and commercials for parody sponsors Powdermilk Biscuits and Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.
Why this one hurts a bit more
The allegation is a devastating blow for fans of public radio, many of whom know Keillor’s deep voice as well as they know a family member’s. His show felt familiar and folksy, like tuning in each week to hear your down-the-street neighbors tell tall tales and trade in-jokes. Keillor’s rich, gravely baritone has accompanied countless families on car trips or was a regular background during Sunday dinners.
“While we appreciate the contributions Garrison has made to MPR and to all of public radio, we believe this decision is the right thing to do and is necessary to continue to earn the trust of our audiences, employees and supporters of our public service,” Jon McTaggart, the president of MPR, said in that statement.
MPR announced it will stop broadcasting episodes of A Prairie Home Companion from Keillor’s tenure and change the name of the weekly program, now hosted by musician Chris Thile.