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The last three months of 2017 saw numerous accusations against some very well-known people. It started in the entertainment industry and spread from there as more people came forward after seeing they weren't alone and had courage to speak up.

One of the people caught up in this is Garrison Keillor, but there has been so little information about what he has been alleged to have done that it looks like a minor incident that could have been easily forgiven (and was forgiven) has been treated as if it a criminal offense on the same scale as what those other people have done. Close to two months after it happened, there is still almost no information. In contrast, for those other people, once the initial accusation was made, within two months, many more were on record.

So what was it?

So what was it Garrison was said to have done? According to the statement by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), it was the following:[1]

  • Allegations of "inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him" (Keillor).
  • "Based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff."

And that was it. That is all MPR said until about a week later, where they added it was allegations by two people associated with A Prairie Home Companion involving "multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior by Keillor", with one person saying those were directed at her. The other person said the incidents were directed at MPR. MPR didn't release further details because those two people wanted privacy.[2]

Despite the lack of details, MPR's statement on December 7th said "The allegations were carefully investigated before MPR made the decision to terminate contracts with Mr. Keillor". However, the day after it occurred, it was due to "a formal complaint from an individual that includes multiple allegations related to Garrison's behavior."[3]

Actions taken by MPR

Based on those incidents, MPR decided to do the following:

  • End all contracts with Garrison.
  • End distribution and broadcast of The Writer's Almanac, which is a radio/online program and podcast that featured poetry and historical interest pieces.
  • Remove rebroadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion from their website.
  • Rename A Prairie Home Companion, which has been hosted by Garrison's successor, Chris Thile, after Garrison's retirement in 2016.
  • Separate themselves from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog and the PrairieHome.org website.
  • Hire an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

The steps taken regarding A Prairie Home Companion are partly due to the fact that Garrison has the copyright on that name, so when they canceled the contracts, they no longer had legal right to APHC material.

Actions taken by others

In response to what MPR has done, other companies have done the following:

  • The Washington Post stopped syndicating his newspaper columns.
  • The airport in Eugene, Oregon had taken down their "Flight Patterns" exhibit in 2015 for remodeling and expansion. The photo of Garrison, the only one who wasn't from the local area, will not be among the ones put back up when the work is completed.[4]
  • All venues where Garrison was scheduled to perform at have cancelled those performances.
  • Book deals have been cancelled.
  • Garrison's segment in the December 19, 2017 broadcast of the PBS show, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. was replaced with a repeat of the segment from 2016 about Maya Rudolph.

What Garrison says happened

At present, the only details about what actually happened are from Garrison himself:

"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."[5]

His reaction to MPR's decision was originally to say on his Facebook account, "It's astonishing that fifty years of hard work can be trashed in a morning by an accusation. I always believed in hard work and now it feels sort of meaningless. Only a friend can hurt you this badly. I think I have to leave the country in order to walk around in public and not feel accusing glances."[3]

Further, he shut down his website, replacing it with a statement that he was just going to let the situation be.[6] His initial message to The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota, included the observation that he was occasionally on the receiving end of slightly inappropriate behavior when women who asked to take a selfie with him would sometimes let their arm "drift down below the beltline".[7]

My assessment

Since there is so little information coming from MPR and what we do have comes from Garrison and describes what should have been a minor incident, my assessment is MPR overreacted. To paraphrase Captain Barbosa, their decision was to enact a punishment that was disproportionate to the crime.

In this case, the "crime" appears to be a single incident of accidental contact that lasted probably about three seconds, for which an apology was offered and accepted, and the matter should have been resolved. However, something very minor somehow got un-resolved and became significant enough to MPR for them to justify their actions. Actions that damaged another person's reputation and career.

My opinion is that MPR acted out of fear. There had been another high-profile accusation against another well-known person on that same day, so they very likely were thinking, "We can't let this turn into the same kind of situation". They chose to take severe steps to immediately separate themselves from Garrison.

But again, they haven't said much to provide justification as to why those severe steps were necessary. The only thing they've said is, "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. We want to assure that this decision honors the highest standards they've come to expect from us."[5] This is in response to the backlash they're receiving for that decision.

Backlash

We need to see information from them pretty quickly before they experience even more backlash. While a small number right now, people have cancelled their subscriptions to MPR and MPR gets almost two-thirds of its revenue from individuals.[8] Several articles have credited Garrison and A Prairie Home Companion as one of the reasons why MPR has been successful. Without details, their actions look heavy-handed and unfairly excessive.

Some of the backlash MPR is already facing are an opinion column and a reader letter, both published in the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota. The first, by Joe Soucheray, says that MPR's treatment of Garrison is setting a kind of precedent that anyone could be fired for even the smallest of infraction.[9]

The reader letter comes from Don Lee, who says up front that he's not a fan of Garrison or Garrison's attitudes, but he's "appalled" by what MPR did. There's been no conviction, but Garrison has been turned into a "non-person" in the eyes of MPR. Besides the removal of APHC rebroadcasts, articles about Garrison and the show have been removed from their website.[10] It should be noted that articles about Garrison are still present on the MPR News website, going back to 2006.

The Mercury News points out that those are the same actions described in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, where information is sent to the Memory Hole and everything is re-written so it never existed, and by doing this, MPR is hurting everyone else that worked on APHC.[11] Both the Canada Free Press[12] and The American Conservative[13] point out that it's an overreaction like you find in totalitarian regimes, and if you're going to follow MPR's example, then the Buffalo Bills need to remove O.J. Simpson from their Hall of Fame, and museums, concert halls, bookstores and movie theaters would become useless and empty as they got rid of everything that is "tainted" by association with someone who did something bad, acts that are certainly much worse than what Garrison has said he did. By that standard, we need to get rid of Volkswagen and the Autobahn (Reichsautobahn), both of which had a lot of involvement from a certain German military leader and the organizations he was involved in. And then we need to follow up with getting rid of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, because that was inspired by the Autobahn.

Welcome back, Garrison

There are bright spots to this situation. While MPR is unlikely to admit they did anything wrong since that would open them to lawsuits, they are now talking directly with Garrison, albeit as negotiations at a Minneapolis law firm. Only after that's completed will we be able to get any details about it.[14] The possibility of this happening started within the week after MPR's decision, with "lawyers talking to lawyers".[15]

As a result, sometime prior to December 29, Garrison's website was restored to what it was early in November. You can see it at GarrisonKeillor.com. I don't know if we'll get everything back, but it's a start. That's followed by the editor of an Iowa newspaper that says if Garrison's newspaper column starts back up again, he'll buy it for his paper.[16]

Even before I knew I wanted to write this blog, I decided that I was going buy as many of Garrison's books and CDs and I could. It didn't seem right what had been done to him, so I wanted to show a little bit of support. The first couple were at a used bookstore, but the next ones will be new from Amazon or the like. My days of trying to be a collector of everything on subjects I'm interested in has passed, and some of the APHC merchandise is just naturally unavailable simply due to the passage of time. But the books and CDs are still available.


Responsibility, not fear

There is a war of sorts going on where the kind of behavior that used to be hushed up or not spoken about because of fear is now at the forefront of our attention. If you do a little research, you'll see we've been at similar points in the past. Hopefully this time, more progress will be made and we won't have to repeat this again in the future.

In my opinion, a good man got dragged into this war when he shouldn't have been. If we ever get information about what supposedly happened and if it turns out to be worse than what we currently know, then I'm willing to revise my opinion. Regardless of whether or not that happens, I don't think my feelings about Lake Wobegon and A Prairie Home Companion will change. Throwing away a lot of good in those stories because of some bad isn't practical, as shown above.

Companies have a responsibility to act when an employee or someone they're associated with engages in misconduct. You'll typically find this in their code of ethics statements and policies. But they also have a responsibility not to act out of fear or in response to the hysteria around a situation. Doing either of those only increases the problems of that situation and can create more damage than what they seek to prevent.


References

  1. "Statement From Minnesota Public Radio Regarding Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion", Minnesota Public Radio, November 29, 2017
  2. "Garrison Keillor: MPR fired me without full investigation", USA Today, December 7, 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 "For MPR and Keillor, ties bound became ties broken", MPR News, December 1, 2017
  4. "Oregon airport says photo of Garrison Keillor won’t return", Twin Cities Pioneer Press, November 30, 2017
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Here’s why the Garrison Keillor allegations stand out", The Washington Post, December 1, 2017
  6. GarrisonKeillor.com, November 29, 2017 (retrieved from the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive)
  7. "Read Garrison Keillor's full email to the Star Tribune", The Star Tribune, November 29, 2017
  8. "Garrison Keillor firing prompts backlash from his fans", The Star Tribune, December 1, 2017
  9. "With Garrison Keillor, the astonishment list gets shorter", Joe Souceray, The Pioneer Press, November 30, 2017
  10. "Letters: Erasing Keillor — justice, or hysteria?", The Pioneer Press, December 3, 2017
  11. "Opinion: Erasing Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion is a ‘1984’-like excess", David Bossbrink, The Mercury News, December 4, 2017
  12. "Minnesota Public Radio disappears everything Garrison Keillor did... like it was never there", Dan Calabrese, Canada Free Press, December 11, 2017
  13. "Garrison Keillor? Who He?", Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, December 7, 2017
  14. "Keillor in mediation with Minnesota Public Radio over firing", The Associated Press, January 10, 2018
  15. "Garrison Keillor says MPR's CEO never asked for his side of the story", Neal Justin, The Star Tribune, December 7, 2017
  16. "Should Garrison Keillor be given a second chance?", Vanity Fair, January 5, 2018


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