Veteran radio host and writer Garrison Keillor confirmed Wednesday that he was fired by his longtime broadcast home, Minnesota Public Radio, over accusations of improper behavior.
After confirming the news in an email to the Associated Press, Keillor issued a follow-up statement saying he was terminated over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.”
Keillor, 75, went into more detail Wednesday in an email to his hometown newspaper, telling 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.”
However, his account only explained one encounter, while Minnesota Public Radioreported that two staffers had complained about him. (He acknowledged there were two accusers in his own statement to MPR.)
MPR issued a statement from communications director Angie Andresen on its website Wednesday announcing it would “end its business relationship with Keillor’s media companies effective immediately.” That includes ending distribution and broadcast of The Writer's Almanac, a daily syndicated program that Keillor continued to write and produce, in addition to rebroadcasts of The Best of A Prairie Home Companion.
She also noted that Prairie Home Companion itself, which is now hosted by Chris Thile, will get a new title. Thile, the Nickel Creek musician handpicked by Keillor to take over the public radio staple, told the Associated Press he was "in shock."
Without getting into specifics of the accusations that resulted in the firing, Andresen said, “Last month, MPR was notified of the allegations which relate to Mr. Keillor's conduct while he was responsible for the production of A Prairie Home Companion (APHC). MPR President Jon McTaggart immediately informed the MPR Board Chair, and a special Board committee was appointed to provide oversight and ongoing counsel. In addition, MPR retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations. Based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff.”
For his part, McTaggart acknowledged, "Garrison Keillor has been an important part of the growth and success of MPR, and all of us in the MPR community are saddened by these circumstances. 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."
Keillor created and hosted Companion from its inception in 1974 until he retired from the radio variety program in a blowout at the Hollywood Bowl in July 2016. He wrote the screenplay for the 2006 feature film titled after and based on the radio show. He also starred in the movie with Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, Lily Tomlin and Kevin Kline.
His firing came one day after publication of a Washington Post column in which he argued against the idea that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken should resign his seat over allegations he groped radio host Leann Tweeden during a 2006 USO tour before he was elected to public office.
"Eleven years later, a talk show host in L.A., goes public, and there is talk of resignation," Keillor wrote. "This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding."
In his statement to MPR, Keillor reiterated that position, writing, "I think the country is in the grip of a mania — the whole Franken business is an absurdity," adding that he wished someone would resist. "But I expect MPR to look out for itself, and meanwhile I feel awfully lucky to have hung on for so long."