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MPR Investigation Finds History Of Behavior By Former Radio Host Garrison Keillor

Jan 23, 2018

Minnesota Public Radio released new details on Tuesday about its decision to cut off business ties with former A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. A woman who worked on Keillor's staff told company officials about dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents, including unwanted touching.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The head of Minnesota Public Radio today released new details about the company's decision last year to cut business ties with the former host of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor. CEO Jon McTaggart says a woman who worked on Keillor's staff notified company officials back in October about dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents including unwanted touching.

Joining us now is Matt Sepic, one of three Minnesota Public Radio reporters who've been investigating the allegations against Keillor. Hey, Matt.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Start with what we know now about these allegations that we didn't back in November when Minnesota Public Radio cut ties.

SEPIC: When our company announced the move on November 29, my colleagues Euan Kerr, Laura Yuen and I started investigating Keillor's past. We interviewed more than 60 people who've worked with him over the years, including staff from A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac, his two long-running national shows. And to be clear, we did not find anything to indicate Keillor engaged in sexual assault, the sort of behavior that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men stand accused of. But we did learn that Keillor had at least two romantic relationships in workplaces he led. And again, these affairs, by all accounts, were consensual.

KELLY: Consensual - it does appear that Keillor tried to keep them quiet, though. Is that right?

SEPIC: Yes. Keillor's production company offered a Keillor subordinate who'd been romantically involved with him $16,000. That check came alongside a confidentiality agreement and a new contract. The woman who spoke to us on condition of anonymity neither cashed that check, nor did she sign the contract. Keillor and his staff work in a building away from Minnesota Public Radio's headquarters, and MPR's newsroom is independent of the company's corporate structure.

Company president Jon McTaggart says the first he'd heard about any problems with Keillor was in August. McTaggart says MPR started an internal investigation at that point. Then two months later, the company hired an outside law firm after receiving a 12-page letter from the attorney of a woman who says Keillor harassed her. McTaggart says the letter includes dozens of allegations including unwanted touching and emails requesting sexual contact. He says the investigation turned up information he could not ignore.

JON MCTAGGART: When we reached a point that from all sources we had sufficient confidence in facts that really required us to act, we took the action we did.

KELLY: All right, so that's your CEO, Jon McTaggart, talking. As you said, you in the newsroom are independent. You're firewalled from corporates. Tell me a little bit more about what you have learned from your investigation.

SEPIC: Well, just by searching public records, we found out that a woman who worked on Keillor's Writer's Almanac show 20 years ago had sued Minnesota Public Radio in 1999 after she was fired. She didn't allege sexual harassment. Her name's Patricia McFadden, and she told me last week that Keillor often bullied the women on his staff and publicly humiliated them.

PATRICIA MCFADDEN: He didn't want too many female poets or authors to be highlighted, and he wanted to know if I was using some kind of a women's calendar because there seemed to be too many women in this week's Writer's Almanac.

KELLY: Matt, what about the man at the center of this, Garrison Keillor himself? I'm sure you've reached out for comment. What's he saying?

SEPIC: So far he's declined on-the-record interviews with us, but he did tell the Minneapolis Star Tribune his only offense was touching a woman's bare back to console her. McTaggart says Keillor's public statements, quote, "have not been fully accurate."

KELLY: Reporter Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio - thank you, Matt.

SEPIC: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.