Garrison Keillor said several sexually suggestive emails exchanged with a former researcher on his A Prairie Home Companion radio show were ‘romantic writing’ that never led to a physical relationship.
In one of his first extended interviews since Minnesota Public Radio cut ties with him over the woman’s sexual harassment claims, Keillor told the Associated Press that he rejected the idea that his status as the woman’s boss meant he could have committed sexual harassment.
MPR terminated Keillor’s contracts on November 29, after receiving allegations of ‘inappropriate behavior’ against him in October.
Garrison Keillor (pictured February 23) said that several sexually suggestive emails exchanged with a former researcher on his A Prairie Home Companion radio show were ‘romantic writing’
Minnesota Public Radio terminated Keillor’s (pictured in 2016) contracts in November 2017 after investigation allegations of ‘inappropriate behavior’ made against him in October
Keillor said he wasn’t really the boss around the radio show and had no control over the woman.
The woman, however, said in an emailed response via her attorney that Keillor had power over her job assignments and opportunities, and she feared saying no to him would hurt her future.
The woman’s claims referred to actions which allegedly occurred while Keillor, 75, was hosting the popular radio program, A Prairie Home Companion, which he created in 1974.
After he retired as host in 2016, the show was renamed Live From Here, with Keillor staying on as an executive producer until MPR ended his contracts in November 2017.
After an investigation of ‘excerpts of e-mails and written messages, requests for sexual contact and explicit descriptions of sexual communications and touching,’ MPR decided that Keillor’s alleged actions constituted improper behavior towards the woman who filed the claims.
Keillor’s attorney, Eric Nilsson told The Star Tribune that the woman, who has not been named, is asking for a financial settlement in the ‘high six figures’ from both Keillor and his production company.
Keillor gave The Star Tribune access to hundred of emails between himself and the female employee, who is said to have been a freelance researcher on A Prairie Home Companion for more than 10 years.
He noted that some of the emails exchanged between them were so personal, that it would be easy to ‘assume that these two were sleeping together,’ although he noted that ‘We were not, and never even came close.’
In 2005, the woman wrote Keillor calling him ‘the smartest man I’ve ever met’ and said that she loved working with him.
Over the years, the two wrote to each other about their hopes and fears, medical issues and familial difficulties.
They also comforted each other during stressful periods and gave each other advice.
Their emails frequently ended with the words, ‘I love you.’
The woman who reported Keillor for harassment is said to have been a freelance researcher who worked with him for more than a decade on A Prairie Home Companion
In one 2014 email, Keillor wrote, ‘I wish we would lie down on the sand and listen to the waves and the gulls and if we did, I would kiss you. As many times as I could.’
At one point, the woman wrote in response, ‘If we were on the beach, I would want you to tell me a story about summer when you were young, and I would tell you one, and I would kiss you back.’
In 2015, Keillor wrote to tell her that he was imagining them in his hotel room, naked in bed together.
She wrote back that ‘the image of us lying together is sweet. I wish I were there, too.’
Other emails between them included sexual banter using ‘language that your newspaper cannot print,’ he told the Star Tribune reporter.
The most explicit of their exchanges were via iPhone text messages, though, which Keillor said are unrecoverable despite the efforts of a forensic team.
‘It was utterly embarrassing, adolescent, utterly bad taste, and it was utterly mutual,’ he admitted.
However, Keillor insisted that despite the intimate nature of their communications, he was not attempting to seduce the woman. In fact, he said, he ‘leapt backward about 15 feet’ after she complained about his behavior in 2015.
‘She wrote to me and said, “I cherish your friendship but I think we need to draw boundaries.” And boy, I couldn’t establish boundaries fast enough,’ Keillor said.
‘I leapt backward about 15 feet. … You know, I am from Minnesota, and you don’t have to tell me twice. When you say, “Take your romantic writing and send it to somebody else,” I hear you.’
The woman’s attorney, Frances Baillon, didn’t argue that the emails were accurate, but did say that Keillor’s assertion that he backed off was untrue.
Keillor (pictured in 1986) said that he and the woman exchanged hundreds of emails while working together, some of which included sexual banter. Their most explicit exchanges, however, were via iPhone text messages which he has been unable to recover thus far
The woman has accused Keillor (in 2017) of touching her inappropriately on three occasions. Keillor admits to one instance when he said his hand slipped under her blouse when he was patting her shoulder while attempting to console her during a lunch in 2015
Baillon told The Star Tribune that her client had told both Keillor and her Prairie Home Companion managers that his overtures were unwanted back in 2011. In addition, she made four additional reports by October 2015.
In a 2011 email, the woman wrote a coworker to say, ‘I have sent an e-mail to GK just now. He will understand, upon reading it, that I want nothing to do with him apart from a working friendship. … I feel sad and nervous.’
And in 2014, she wrote a coworker saying, ‘No intervention needed at this time.’ She went on to say that she didn’t ‘want to have sex with him or blackmail him or entice him. None of that. I love when we can have good writerly conversations and I think I help him and he helps me.’
In that email, she identified her feelings for Keillor as being akin to those for an ‘older brother.’
Once, Baillon said that the woman claimed that Keillor ‘seemed upset’ when she told him not to come over and that she didn’t want to have a sexual relationship with him.
In addition to the improper communication between them, the woman complained that he had touched her inappropriately on three occasions.
She said that in 2011, during a visit to the Prairie Home Companion’s production office, Keillor had ‘trailed his fingers up and down her left thigh’ and that during a car ride in 2015, he had ‘put his hand on her leg.’
Keillor said that he doesn’t ‘remember every knee I have touched, or every hand I have shaken.’
But, he did confirm her third touching complaint.
Keillor said that he and the woman rarely met in person because she frequently worked from home, although he recalled meeting her for lunch twice and it was during a 2015 lunch that he said he his hand ‘slipped under the leading edge of her blouse’ when he put his hand on her bare shoulder while he tried to console her.
‘She winced … and I said I was sorry,’ Keillor said.
In one of their final email exchanges, in July 2016, following Keillor’s farewell Prairie Home Companion broadcast, he wrote, ‘I am very very sorry about the time I impulsively put my hand under your shirt. I have felt bad about it. I wish I could take it back. It was done out of honest impulse, but still. I am sorry.’
‘I forgive you,’ she responded. ‘I forgave you. You can let it go. I’m glad you wrote me. I thought I might never hear from you again. Thank you.’
MPR said it stands by its handling of Keillor’s case ‘based on facts confirming unacceptable behavior in the workplace.’
Keillor and MPR had been in negotiations since January over payment of unfilled contractual obligations regarding his broadcasts, in addition to financial damages related to the negative publicity surrounding MPR’s decision to end his contracts.
The negotiations stalled out on February 20, following ‘completely unreasonable’ terms, according to Nilsson, Keillor’s attorney.
The Star Tribune has identified several other woman who claim that Keillor sent them inappropriate messages over the years. One of the woman was a longtime staffer who had an affair with Keiller from 2007-2008, following their exchange of emails that that had sexual overtones. Keillor admitted to the affair and said that, ‘It was one of those interesting friendships that is not exploitative. It’s mutual, and it comes to an end. But you are still friends.’