Garrison Keillor is no Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose, yet he’s being treated as such.
Lauer, the 20-year veteran of NBC’s “Today” show, and Rose, the CBS morning co-anchor and PBS talk show host, are said to have sexually harassed – and in Lauer’s case, sexually assaulted – several women with whom they worked. According to the shocking reports, their harassment of coworkers occurred over the long term and was premeditated.
I expect this behavior from Hollywood and New York bigwigs, where morality has taken a back seat to ratings, but not from journalists who lead newsrooms and are trusted by millions. And especially not out of Garrison Keillor, who provided a weekly retreat into the innocent world of Lake Wobegon for his NPR listeners.
Everyone’s been saying these sexual harassment firings are a good thing for the industries of entertainment, politics and journalism. I agreed with this summation until I heard the bizarre report that Keillor, the creator of “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Writer’s Almanac” was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for what he described as the accidental touching of a woman’s bare skin as they posed for a photograph.
Sorry, but the grandfatherly Garrison doesn’t seem the type to sexually harass anyone. I believe him when he says it was an accident.
It was this case that got me rethinking the movement that is sweeping America now, just as the witch trials swept Salem and the scarlet letter swallowed Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s novel. Once-respected men in all walks of life are being outed as sexual opportunists at work – even the 75-year-old Keillor, who probably never uttered the word “sex” in 40 years of hosting his weekly show.
To lose your job for accidentally touching the bare skin of a woman during a photo doesn’t seem right. Keillor anchored “Prairie Home Companion” from 1974-2016, and now I’ve heard the producers are going to change the name and quit rebroadcasting old episodes because Keillor is a toxic commodity.
Have they lost their minds? I can understand Lauer and Rose being publicly ousted and castigated because of their premeditated actions. But Keillor? Come on.
So what is driving the hysteria? I believe it’s a yearning for high ratings. And I blame it on social media.
America has changed since the advent about 10 years ago of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s as if America is a high school, with popularity and group-think driving everything. Facebook turns people into commodities: I’m better than you if I have 500 friends and you only have 300. I find it amazing so many people play this game of judging their self-worth based on the numbers of followers or retweets or likes.
I heard one young person say recently that all he cared about was the number of likes he could get on a posted video. Ratings were once confined to TV and newspapers but now everyone cares about ratings, even a little kid performing a skateboarding trick on YouTube.
In Keillor’s case, I believe his demise is due to Minnesota Public Radio’s concern about ratings. If they didn’t take swift action after the accusation, their ratings would suffer. Never mind Keillor’s years of stellar work and thousands of shows with nary a hint of untoward behavior. He was shown a quick exit based on a single incident that happened years ago. He even said he immediately apologized and that the woman accepted, but apparently the woman came forward because, well, that’s the thing to do now.
Harassment hysteria has taken over and no man – even one as wholesome as the creator of a show that heralds Norwegian bachelor farmers – will go unpunished. Even a man who apologizes sincerely, as Keillor says he did.
Of course, we only know what is being publicly said by and about Keillor, but so far it seems he is being lumped unfairly with the likes of Lauer, Rose and Harvey Weinstein, the movie magnate-turned-sex rehab clinic attendee.
The real crime here is that Minnesota Public Radio is going to stop rebroadcasting Keillor’s past shows, which makes victims of his many fans. Keillor is an American originator. He brought us so much creativity through his weekly Saturday night show: Powdermilk Biscuits, the Ketchup Advisory Board, the adventures of Dusty and Lefty and private eye Guy Noir. “Prairie Home Companion” was the best thing on radio for 40 years. Keillor’s microphone deserves to be in the Smithsonian.
To wipe out that creative legacy and ruin a reputation to placate those who want to make examples of anyone accused of sexual harassment – and maintain ratings – is just plain wrong.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.