Listen: 20180123_PKG 3:35 Keillor (Sepic Yuen)

MPR News presents an investigative report on the accusations of "inappropriate behavior" against Garrison Keillor, the creator and longtime host of A Prairie Home Companion. Report also looks into the subsequent actions of Minnesota Public Radio abruptly severing ties with Keillor, numerous interviews, and details a timeline on the multiple accusations.


2018 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Hard Feature - Large Market Radio category

2018 SBJ Ethics in Journalism Award

2019 Minnesota Page One Award, first place in Online - Best Continuing Coverage


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SPEAKER 1: An investigation by MPR News has found that Garrison Keillor, the creative force behind A Prairie Home Companion fostered a work environment that left some women feeling mistreated, sexualized, or belittled. Minnesota Public Radio broke off its business ties with Keillor about two months ago, citing inappropriate behavior by the radio host toward a woman he worked with. Today, for the first time, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart went further than that, saying Keillor had made sexual overtures, including unwanted touching and requests for sexual contact.

Those revelations add context to a Minnesota Public Radio News investigation into Keillor and his pattern of troubling incidents and workplace relationships. They raised questions about what MPR knew and when. Reporter Laura Yuen begins our story.

GARRISON KEILLOR: Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown.

LAURA YUEN: Over his four decades as host of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor crafted the public persona of a folksy storyteller with a literary pedigree. But details about his work offstage, revealed through more than 60 interviews with colleagues and collaborators, create a far more complex portrait. MPR News has learned, for instance, that in 2009, a subordinate who was romantically involved with Keillor received a check from his production company along with a proposed confidentiality agreement. A decade before that, a producer sued MPR claiming Keillor habitually bullied and humiliated her. And in 2012, Keillor apologized to a college student who worked at his Saint Paul bookstore after writing a sexual limerick about her.

Until today, leaders at Minnesota Public Radio declined to talk about Keillor's behavior or what prompted the company's split with him. Shortly after MPR cut ties with Keillor, he described his offense to the Star Tribune as nothing more than having placed his hand on a woman's back to console her. Later, in emails to MPR News, Keillor claimed his banishment was the result of an extortion scheme by a fired employee seeking a generous severance.

MPR CEO Jon McTaggart said today he rejects the premise of that claim. He said that neither an in-house nor independent investigation into the matter could substantiate Keillor's story. But McTaggart did say the company received allegations about dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents involving Keillor and a woman who worked for him on A Prairie Home Companion. He said the allegations included requests for sexual contact and descriptions of unwanted sexual touching. McTaggart says cutting Keillor off was the most painful decision he's made as CEO, but the investigation bore details 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. It was the right thing to do. It was the necessary thing to do and we stand by it.

LAURA YUEN: Many of the people MPR News spoke with described other troubling incidents or relationships. Most also spoke on the condition of anonymity because they still work in the industry or fear repercussions. In an email to MPR News on Monday, Keillor said he could not comment for this story in part because he was in negotiations with MPR over their business relationship. Keillor goes on to say, quote, "I'll be able to tell my side of the story at length in my own words in due course, and that's sufficient for me." Matt Sepic picks up our story from here.

MATT SEPIC: Over the past decade, Keillor had at least two romantic relationships with women in workplaces he led, not including the woman who made the complaints. That's according to three people with direct knowledge of the relationships and four former colleagues who said Keillor's affairs were open secrets around the office. By their accounts, the affairs were consensual. But several sources say the relationships were still problematic given the significant power imbalance.

One of the women who was romantically involved with Keillor was offered a check for $16,000 from Keillor's company, Prairie Home Productions, alongside a proposed confidentiality agreement and a new contract. The woman never cashed the check and signed neither the contract nor the nondisclosure agreement. A friend said the woman suffered professional and financial consequences from the relationship.

LAURA YUEN: Other interactions Keillor had with women, some a third his age, left them feeling demeaned and objectified. Among them, Lora Den Otter. In early 2001, she was studying journalism at the University of Minnesota and aspired to write professionally.

That year, Keillor returned to his alma mater to teach a comedy writing class and Den Otter jumped at the chance to learn from him. One day, Keillor asked his students to write a letter that started as a minor complaint, but grew increasingly hostile. Den Otter had an idea.

LORA DEN OTTER: It was meant to be a letter from my grandmother to the makers of "Days of our Lives," complaining about how the plot of this soap opera had become just too incredulous for anyone to believe.

LAURA YUEN: Keillor liked it and paid Den Otter $50 to use it in a catch-up advisory council bit on A Prairie Home Companion.

SPEAKER 2: (SINGING) Catch up catch up

LAURA YUEN: She was elated that a famous writer had noticed her work. Soon, Den Otter emailed Keillor to ask if she could intern on his show. He said, yes. But Den Otter recalls an unexpected addendum to Keillor's reply.

LORA DEN OTTER: He said, I'll have to suppress my intense attraction to you, but that can be done.

LAURA YUEN: Den Otter recalls rebuffing Keillor while trying to make light of the remark, but the initial confidence she felt about her writing evaporated. She figured Keillor had only noticed her because of her appearance. Den Otter completed the internship and says she never heard Keillor say anything inappropriate again.

For a long time, she kept quiet about her experience. But when MPR cut ties with Keillor, Den Otter shared her story on Twitter with the MeToo hashtag. Today, Den Otter is 38 and teaches high school English. She's speaking publicly now in hopes that her students won't let a similar situation undermine their confidence.

LORA DEN OTTER: I see these young women who are starting to have to deal with the reality of how men will treat them and may treat them like this. And I want to send the message to them that it's not OK. You can speak out and you should speak out if this happens to you.

LAURA YUEN: Many women who've worked with Keillor over the years say they've never experienced anything like this with him and remain flummoxed over MPR's decision to cut ties. Company president Jon McTaggart reportedly told employees at an off-the-record meeting last month that he alone among staff knew the details of the allegations against Keillor. McTaggart said the specifics had been shared only with lawyers and several board members.

Sue Scott, a longtime Prairie Home cast member says MPR needs to be more forthcoming. She questions how McTaggart could have severed ties before an internal investigation was finished. Scott says people are wrongly conflating inappropriate behavior with sexual predator. Amanda Stanton, who handled marketing for Prairie Home Productions for three years in the mid 2000 says she can't reconcile MPR's decision with the Garrison Keillor she knew.

AMANDA STANTON: I never saw anything that was disrespectful. I never saw anything that was inappropriate. The most reserved boss I've ever worked with truly is Garrison.

LAURA YUEN: Stanton says the atmosphere at Keillor's office was family oriented. When she returned to work from maternity leave, she says Keillor set aside space in an empty room as a nursery for her twin boys. But another woman who worked alongside Keillor had a far different experience.

MATT SEPIC: In 1995, Patricia McFadden, a freelance writer then in her late seconds, landed what seemed like a dream job. That fall, she began working for the Writer's Almanac, a short daily program that Keillor had started a few years earlier. McFadden found the research and writing in her job interesting and rewarding, but she does not have fond memories of her three years working for Keillor.

In her Saint Paul dining room last week, McFadden recounted how he seemed to take delight in disparaging the work she and other women handed in. McFadden says Keillor would destroy scripts with dramatic flourish just to humiliate her. She recalls one instance when Keillor complained that she'd tried to include too many women writers on the show.

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.

MATT SEPIC: Eventually she'd had enough and complained to MPR management. In 1998, McFadden's supervisor told her that her job was being eliminated because of restructuring. But McFadden says MPR replaced her with a younger woman. The company has disputed that allegation.

Angered by her treatment, McFadden sued MPR in federal court for retaliation and age and sex discrimination. McFadden's attorney says the case was resolved before trial in 1999. Until now, McFadden has never spoken publicly about her experience. But since the revelation last October of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the MeToo movement it reignited, she says, it's important for men in positions of authority to be held accountable.

PATRICIA MCFADDEN: I think people that have power, and influence, and good fortune have more responsibility to behave well than anybody. And it should not be an excuse to behave badly and to treat others so poorly, especially women.

MATT SEPIC: Another woman who tried to speak up was Liz Fleischman. She also worked for Keillor for about three years, including a stint as a producer for the Writer's Almanac. Fleischman had nearly identical stories about Keillor's temperament.

When she left the company, Fleischman says she alerted then MPR President Bill Kling to Keillor's treatment of his staff. As she remembers it, Kling ignored her concerns. He declined to comment for this story, but Fleischman says he could have changed the culture of Keillor's workplace.

LIZ FLEISCHMAN: It didn't have to be that way. A talent could change their behavior and continue to be a talent and continue to do well. You don't have to be one or the other. You could be both. You could be a kind manager and a very talented manager at the same time.

MATT SEPIC: These allegations about Keillor's treatment of women run contrary to the clean-cut, wholesome reputation of A Prairie Home Companion or do they?

LAURA YUEN: There has always been a dark side to some of Keillor's characters. One person who worked on the show said, you only have to look at segments such as Guy Noir Private Eye and Lives of the Cowboys to see recurring portrayals of women as saloon floozies or femme fatale.

SPEAKER 3: You alone? Care to play around? My name is Jaguar.

LAURA YUEN: It all seemed to delight audiences, but Keillor's humor wasn't always funny offstage. One day in 2012, Molly Hilgenberg was working at Keillor's Saint Paul bookstore Common Good Books when he dropped by for one of his occasional visits. Hilgenberg says Keillor noticed another young employee and wrote a limerick on a whiteboard behind the cash register. "A beauty who goes to Macalester-- O, her face, her limbs, her ballast, her tiny blue kilt, and the way she is built could make a petrified phallus stir." Hilgenberg says the verse was offensive and demeaning, but the staff felt powerless to do anything about it.

MOLLY HILGENBERG: I don't even really remember my reaction. I just was in shock. And I was like, that is so wildly inappropriate, in my mind, but I didn't say anything, which I still regret to this day.

LAURA YUEN: Hilgenberg shared photos of the verse with MPR News. The woman who was the apparent subject of the poem did not want to be named in our story. She says Keillor sent her a letter saying he was sorry his limerick made her feel bad and went on to explain what limericks are.

Neither Hilgenberg nor her coworker quit over the incident. They say they never experienced or saw anything similar in their remaining time at the store. For his part, Keillor appears confident that he's done nothing to merit MPR's cutting of ties. The company has stopped distributing the Writer's Almanac and old Prairie Home shows.

In a December Facebook post just after the breakup, Keillor described the theme of a fictional screenplay he's writing. In it, a man returns home to Lake Wobegon after being fired from his job. His offense? Writing a limerick with sexual innuendo and sending it to his fellow employees.

Keillor also says he's hard at work on a novella titled Inappropriate Behavior and on a memoir that deletes MPR from his life story. With reporting from Euan Kerr, I'm Laura Yuen.

MATT SEPIC: And I'm Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News.

SPEAKER 1: You might be wondering how Minnesota Public Radio News goes about covering Minnesota Public Radio, its parent company. For a full explanation of how we reported this story, visit


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