A Note from Jon McTaggart: Answering Your Questions about MPR’s Decision to End Contracts with Garrison Keillor
Dear MPR Members and Listeners,
For more than 50 years, we’ve worked hard to earn the trust of our listeners, Members and those who work with us. This trust is extremely important to all of us at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and we will not do anything to risk or break that trust. We know the decisions we make, every day, reveal the character of MPR. I’m writing to provide additional information about the decision to end our long-standing contracts with Garrison Keillor’s media companies, and to protect the trust and confidence you have placed in us.
Ending our contracts with Garrison was a painful decision, one that we did not make lightly. We acted with the support of our Board of Trustees following an extended, independent, fact-finding investigation that included notifying Garrison of the allegations and giving him an opportunity to respond to them. We are confident of the facts that informed our decision and we stand by it.
Since early December, MPR Members and listeners have asked us a lot of questions related to our decision, some of which are based on misinformation that has been widely circulated in the press and social media. The questions we’ve been asked are important ones and deserve factual responses.
Question: Did MPR overreact to a single incident of Garrison touching the back of the woman who is making the allegations?
Answer: The woman who made the allegations worked for Garrison on A Prairie Home Companion, which was produced by Garrison’s media companies. In the allegations she provided to MPR, she did not allege that Garrison touched her back, but did claim that he engaged in other unwanted sexual touching. In a letter to MPR dated October 22, 2017, the woman’s attorney described dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents directed at her client over a period of years. In fact, the woman’s attorney presented us with a 12-page letter detailing many of the alleged incidents, including excerpts of emails and written messages, requests for sexual contact and explicit descriptions of sexual communications and touching. Because of the serious and sensitive nature of the allegations, we decided to undertake an independent investigation and we told Garrison that we were doing so.
Beginning in November 2017, the investigator reviewed documents and interviewed employees of Garrison’s companies, MPR employees, and others for information about the allegations. Most importantly, before we made the decision to end our relationship with Garrison’s companies, Garrison was asked for his response to the specific allegations, including alleged sexual contact and communications, and he responded to the allegations while accompanied by his attorney.
If the full 12-page letter or even a detailed summary of the alleged incidents were to be made public, we believe that would clarify why MPR ended its business relationship with Garrison and correct the misunderstandings and misinformation about the decision. We have not released the letter because of our commitment to protecting the privacy of those involved, including Garrison. No MPR employee, or anyone associated with our public service, should have to fear that we will disclose their identity and details of personal matters simply for MPR’s benefit.
MPR has clear standards and policies that hold people accountable for their behavior in the workplace. While everyone at MPR is expected to abide by these expectations, we hold leaders and people in positions of power to the highest standards for their behavior, especially when their relationships involve decisions that directly affect an individual’s career and livelihood. We do not tolerate the misuse of power.
Question: How long has MPR known about these allegations?
Answer: We did not know of these allegations until late August 2017 when a former MPR employee brought them to our attention in a general way. Unfortunately, no one at Prairie Grand had told us about this situation before then. MPR promptly launched an internal investigation based on the former employee’s comments, although he refused to provide the identity of anyone involved or the date or nature of any improper behavior. While we were conducting the internal investigation, in mid-September, we were contacted by an attorney who informed us that her law firm represented the former employee and also the woman who has since made the allegations. MPR repeatedly asked the attorney for the specific allegations regarding Garrison’s conduct and eventually received them from her in letters dated September 29 (regarding the former employee) and October 22, 2017 (regarding the woman).
The MPR Board was notified of the allegations on October 26, 2017. The independent investigation began a few days later.
Question: Did MPR provide due process to Garrison or was this a rush to protect MPR in the current environment?
Answer: MPR’s process was deliberate, diligent and included Garrison. Due process means providing notice of the allegations and an opportunity to respond to them. Garrison was informed of the allegations and he responded to them with his attorney present before we made the decision to end our relationship with his companies.
When MPR received the detailed letter of allegations in late October, I promptly informed the MPR Board Chair. We decided to appoint a special Trustee committee of four widely respected MPR Board leaders to oversee the process and advise me on decisions. I communicated with members of the special Trustee committee frequently, and we met regularly as the situation unfolded. To ensure impartiality, the outside law firm advising MPR engaged a separate and independent law firm to perform the fact-finding investigation. MPR provided the independent investigator with all requested access to MPR documents, emails, text messages and other materials to assist in the search for facts and the investigator informed the special Trustee committee of the facts she uncovered. The facts, not mere allegations, were the basis for our decision.
Question: Why weren’t Garrison’s emails and phone texts reviewed?
Answer: MPR’s attorneys had several conversations with Garrison’s attorneys seeking access to his emails and phone texts. Before the decision to end our relationship was made, Garrison and his attorneys were asked multiple times for access to Garrison’s computer, emails and text messages to assist in the investigation. To date, all requests to review Garrison’s emails and texts related to this matter have been refused by Garrison or his attorneys.
Question: Has MPR unfairly tarnished Garrison Keillor’s reputation?
Answer: Garrison has operated his own private media companies for many years. We appreciate his many contributions to MPR and we have gone to great lengths to be considerate of Garrison’s privacy and his reputation. For example, we have not disclosed the details of the allegations, we offered to work with Garrison on the public release of information related to the separation and we’ve sought a thoughtful transition of our business relationship. I discussed our request for a careful transition with Garrison, personally, on the phone the evening of November 28. The next morning, Garrison emailed the media claiming he was “fired” by MPR. Since then, Garrison has posted statements to social media and provided information to reporters that have not been fully accurate and have suggested that MPR did not handle these matters thoughtfully. The irony is that while MPR has been careful to protect Garrison’s privacy and not hurry any decisions, others have rushed to judge and criticize MPR’s actions without knowing the facts.
Question: If the allegations are true, doesn’t MPR have a responsibility to reveal the specific allegations and the identity of the people involved?
Answer: The woman who has made the allegations has not publicly identified herself, and has not made her allegations public. Garrison has also chosen not to make the specific allegations public. We respect their decisions. That said, we are confident that MPR’s diligent process, our commitment to making decisions based on the facts, and the care we’ve taken as we considered this momentous decision all support our action.
If MPR were to publicly identify the woman making the allegations, or if MPR were to release the details of the many incidents she claims took place, we believe that would risk discouraging employees or those associated with MPR from reporting harassment or other unacceptable workplace behavior in the future. We are committed to providing a safe and supportive work environment. Employees and others who believe they have been subjected to unwanted behavior at work must have the assurance and confidence they can report any incident without the fear their identity or details will be made public unnecessarily.
Question: How many complaints has MPR received about Garrison Keillor?
Answer: MPR has received two formal complaints, both making allegations about Garrison’s behavior in the workplace. One of the individuals is a woman who claims Garrison’s behavior was directed at her, and the other individual claims to know about some of the alleged behavior.
Question: Why is MPR so ungrateful to Garrison for his many years of service and contributions to the success of MPR?
Answer: Garrison is one of the most talented, creative, generous and hard-working people I’ve ever met. We are deeply grateful for all that he has done for MPR, for Minnesota and for our country. He has brought so much joy to countless listeners all over the world. As we said in our original statement regarding this situation, “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.”
Question: Why did MPR end public access to the online archives of A Prairie Home Companion (APHC) and The Writer’s Almanac?
Answer: Garrison Keillor owns the legal rights and trademarks to A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison and his companies own many of the rights to the shows' artistic content. Unfortunately, this means MPR cannot grant public access to what we no longer have permission to use, nor can we post APHC content on our websites, or continue to use the name A Prairie Home Companion or any of its related brands in MPR programming. We know how important these archives are to the thousands of performers and artists whose work is included in these programs, and to countless fans of these shows. We hope that we can agree with Garrison on a way to provide public access to these online archives.
Question: Why did MPR take so long to disclose this new information?
Answer: Once the woman’s attorney notified MPR of the allegations against Garrison, we began a formal process to investigate the claims, gather documents, conduct interviews and understand the facts. As previously noted, MPR’s law firm retained an outside firm to conduct an investigation. In addition, MPR entered into mediation discussions earlier this month in good faith to try and reach agreements with Garrison and the other parties involved in this matter. Unfortunately, the mediation sessions have not produced the final settlements we had hoped for. MPR was restrained in telling our story until we had the benefit of the facts from the outside investigation and had participated in the mediation process. Now that there is renewed media interest in this story, we want to inform our Members and the broader public of the important facts and information that compelled us to take the actions we did.
Finally, the decision we made to end our contracts with Garrison’s companies is informed by our values, accountable to the facts, and honors the bedrock principles all employees, donors and listeners should expect from us. I hope this additional information helps you understand the care and diligence we used in making the decisions we did. Put simply, we are confident that we followed a fair process and made the right decision, based on the facts.
As we wrap up our year-long celebration of MPR’s 50th Anniversary, we are excited about the future and the new programs and initiatives we are creating to deepen the value and expand the services we provide. Our Mission to “enrich minds, nourish spirits, expand perspectives and assist our audiences in strengthening their communities” has never been more important to the millions of people we serve.
Thank you for your confidence and trust, and for your vital and sustaining support.
Jon McTaggart, MPR President