Neither his 2016 retirement from A Prairie Home Companion nor a scandal the following year that saw Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) severing ties with the radio host amid allegations of sexual misconduct have slowed down Garrison Keillor. Approaching his 80th birthday, the humorist is back in the spotlight thanks to two new books (Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80: Why You Should Keep On Getting Older and the novel Boom Town: a Lake Wobegon), a series of tour dates and an interview with CBS Sunday Morning News in which he reflects on being called out during the #MeToo movement.
“#MeToo was a very noble undertaking to fight bullies,” Keillor, 79, tells CBS correspondent Anthony Mason. “There are bullies and I’m in favor of fighting them — I’m not one myself.”
In November 2017, Keillor was fired from MPR, which broadcast A Prairie Home Companion and A Writer’s Almanac, after the married writer and radio personality was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by a female colleague. Email exchanges between him and the woman, a researcher who described Keillor as a “mentor and employer” who “had power over me,” see him making reference to sexual dreams about her. In his interview, Keillor insists that he and the woman had a “mutual flirtation” and “friendship” that was deemed problematic only because “the culture changed.” He now sees it as “dangerous” to be friends with women in the workplace.
“There was no kissing, there was no hugging — it was a sort of flirtation that thousands of people did before me, and I hope they take my case as a warning that you should not,” says Keillor, who has previously blamed his firing on touching a woman’s bare back as he tried to console her. “You should not be friends with a female colleague — it’s dangerous. You should never put your hand on a female colleague, ever — it’s dangerous.”
Keillor says he “would have been grateful” if he’d been confronted in person about “the effect” his sexual references and unwanted touching were having. When pressed by Mason as to whether he “crossed the line,” he suggests that he didn’t do anything that others haven’t.
“I crossed the line in a way that if you were to dismiss everybody else who had crossed the line, there would be no staff left,” he says. “And there would be no management whatsoever. The culture changed.”
He calls signing a confidentiality agreement as part of his settlement a “dreadful, dreadful mistake,” noting that “a person should never sign away your right to tell your side of the story.”
While he acknowledges that having already retired prior to the allegations coming out made it easier, he bristles at having his business ties terminated by MPR, which subsequently conducted an investigation determining a “years-long pattern of behavior that left several women who worked for Keillor feeling mistreated, sexualized or belittled,” according to MPR News.
“I worked for the company for 40 years, and I was dismissed with a phone call,” the native Minnesotan says. “The phone call took about a minute and a half. There was no ‘thank you.'”
Keillor now says he doesn’t care about what people think of him, adding, “I’m not taking a poll about my reputation, my public image, or anything. … I have friends and family, and there are a certain number of people who still love to come out and hear about Lake Wobegon. And that’s enough. What more does one want?”
He also resists using the word “victim,” telling Mason, “I’ve met too many people who really are victims, and I’m not.”