Garrison Keillor and the runaway sex harassment train

All right – now it's personal.

For weeks, I've been riding a wave of schadenfreude, smoothly enjoying liberal actors and celebrities getting crushed under the swell of sexual assault allegations.  The tremor Ronan Farrow unleashed with his exposé on Harvey Weinstein in the pages of The New Yorker was a cultural event of tectonic plate-shifting importance.  Going forth, we'll reference things with a new cultural marker: pre-Weinstein and post-Weinstein.

I was thoroughly enjoying the post-Weinstein world.  But then things changed.  My wave of pompous pleasure crashed on the shoals of someone unexpected: Garrison Keillor.

The raconteur of Lake Wobegon was unceremoniously fired from Minnesota Public Radio after spending a lifetime creating it.  The details are spotty, but, according to Keillor, the poet and entertainer stands accused of caressing a woman's back inappropriately while trying to console her.  His intention – sexual or innocuous – is not clear.

In an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Keillor provided a simple explanation of the offending incident: "I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized."

He immediately expressed contrition, but to no effect.  The complaint was filed anyway.  And just like that, a talent is blacklisted, wiped away from memory.  MPR is renaming Keillor's popular show, Prairie Home Companion, and is ending his daily broadcast, The Writer's Almanac, a short recap of literary events in history that includes the reciting of a poem.

The curious way in which we deal with propriety's offenders in this country has always been troublesome.  It's uniquely American to think you can just erase someone and forget his legacy.  This nation was founded on a fresh start, the novus ordo seclorum.  Somehow, we think that same renewal can be applied to personal history – that a birthright of every American is the ability to shed one's past and begin anew.

Memory-holing aside, the cavalier decision to end The Writer's Almanac was the aha moment when I realized that something had gone terribly awry.  The show hasn't just ended; it's totally wiped from the website.  The URL "writersalmanac.org" now goes directly to a sniveling press release from MPR announcing that the broadcast and all its archives are hereby scrubbed.

Overkill much?  Even the Romans took it easier on Carthage than what the radio execs did to Keillor.

As an avid listener of the Almanac, I found the cancelation a reorienting smack to the face.  Whom would the Harvey Weinstein revelations take down next?  Is this getting out of hand?

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan cheers that the "The Sexual-Harassment Racket Is Over."  But is it really over, or are we just overcompensating now for letting lechers like Weinstein and Matt Lauer get away with abusing women for so long?

The case of Keillor warrants caution.  MPR has yet to release detailed information as to why, exactly, the longtime host was let go.  Currently, it's Keillor's word against silence.  And silence doesn't make a victim's case.

The dizzying pace in which reputable men are being accused makes it hard to fully grapple with the ramifications of stripping Keillor of his position.  The pendulum, it would seem, has been pushed fully to the other side.  Before Weinstein, men of power were deferred to in cases of alleged sexual harassment.  After Weinstein, men are hardly given a chance to respond before the employment axe comes down on their necks.

No doubt, some of the accused deserve their ruination.  Actor Kevin Spacey comes to mind.  Keillor himself has the strange tendency to defend unprompted sexual overtures.  "A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation," he joked in 1994 at the National Press Club.  A day before his letting go, Keillor penned a defense of Minnesota senator Al Franken, calling it "absurd" to demand his resignation over his handsy behavior.  The irony couldn't be richer if Warren Buffett died and left his estate to it.

I get the resentment.  Keillor's a liberal, and an overbearing one at that.  The knee-jerk reflex by conservatives to demand his head after decades of the left's inquisition tactics is all too easy to succumb to.  But there is cause to be wary.  Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who thinks liberals like himself should take a no-exceptions stance on harassment, finds the blurriness in Keillor's case unconvincing.

"I realize it's unfashionable and considered to be abuse-enabling not to issue wholesale condemnations and expression of knowing revulsion at even the vaguest first allegations," he writes.  But, in true American form, he demands more: more details, more evidence, more careful consideration.

We should all be so circumspect with accusations of abuse.  Keillor's ignominious fall opened my eyes.  The next person to go down in a flurry of sexual imputations might open yours.

All right – now it's personal.

For weeks, I've been riding a wave of schadenfreude, smoothly enjoying liberal actors and celebrities getting crushed under the swell of sexual assault allegations.  The tremor Ronan Farrow unleashed with his exposé on Harvey Weinstein in the pages of The New Yorker was a cultural event of tectonic plate-shifting importance.  Going forth, we'll reference things with a new cultural marker: pre-Weinstein and post-Weinstein.

I was thoroughly enjoying the post-Weinstein world.  But then things changed.  My wave of pompous pleasure crashed on the shoals of someone unexpected: Garrison Keillor.

The raconteur of Lake Wobegon was unceremoniously fired from Minnesota Public Radio after spending a lifetime creating it.  The details are spotty, but, according to Keillor, the poet and entertainer stands accused of caressing a woman's back inappropriately while trying to console her.  His intention – sexual or innocuous – is not clear.

In an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Keillor provided a simple explanation of the offending incident: "I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized."

He immediately expressed contrition, but to no effect.  The complaint was filed anyway.  And just like that, a talent is blacklisted, wiped away from memory.  MPR is renaming Keillor's popular show, Prairie Home Companion, and is ending his daily broadcast, The Writer's Almanac, a short recap of literary events in history that includes the reciting of a poem.

The curious way in which we deal with propriety's offenders in this country has always been troublesome.  It's uniquely American to think you can just erase someone and forget his legacy.  This nation was founded on a fresh start, the novus ordo seclorum.  Somehow, we think that same renewal can be applied to personal history – that a birthright of every American is the ability to shed one's past and begin anew.

Memory-holing aside, the cavalier decision to end The Writer's Almanac was the aha moment when I realized that something had gone terribly awry.  The show hasn't just ended; it's totally wiped from the website.  The URL "writersalmanac.org" now goes directly to a sniveling press release from MPR announcing that the broadcast and all its archives are hereby scrubbed.

Overkill much?  Even the Romans took it easier on Carthage than what the radio execs did to Keillor.

As an avid listener of the Almanac, I found the cancelation a reorienting smack to the face.  Whom would the Harvey Weinstein revelations take down next?  Is this getting out of hand?

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan cheers that the "The Sexual-Harassment Racket Is Over."  But is it really over, or are we just overcompensating now for letting lechers like Weinstein and Matt Lauer get away with abusing women for so long?

The case of Keillor warrants caution.  MPR has yet to release detailed information as to why, exactly, the longtime host was let go.  Currently, it's Keillor's word against silence.  And silence doesn't make a victim's case.

The dizzying pace in which reputable men are being accused makes it hard to fully grapple with the ramifications of stripping Keillor of his position.  The pendulum, it would seem, has been pushed fully to the other side.  Before Weinstein, men of power were deferred to in cases of alleged sexual harassment.  After Weinstein, men are hardly given a chance to respond before the employment axe comes down on their necks.

No doubt, some of the accused deserve their ruination.  Actor Kevin Spacey comes to mind.  Keillor himself has the strange tendency to defend unprompted sexual overtures.  "A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation," he joked in 1994 at the National Press Club.  A day before his letting go, Keillor penned a defense of Minnesota senator Al Franken, calling it "absurd" to demand his resignation over his handsy behavior.  The irony couldn't be richer if Warren Buffett died and left his estate to it.

I get the resentment.  Keillor's a liberal, and an overbearing one at that.  The knee-jerk reflex by conservatives to demand his head after decades of the left's inquisition tactics is all too easy to succumb to.  But there is cause to be wary.  Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who thinks liberals like himself should take a no-exceptions stance on harassment, finds the blurriness in Keillor's case unconvincing.

"I realize it's unfashionable and considered to be abuse-enabling not to issue wholesale condemnations and expression of knowing revulsion at even the vaguest first allegations," he writes.  But, in true American form, he demands more: more details, more evidence, more careful consideration.

We should all be so circumspect with accusations of abuse.  Keillor's ignominious fall opened my eyes.  The next person to go down in a flurry of sexual imputations might open yours.

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