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Dropping Keillor painful but necessary, MPR chief tells listeners

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Garrison Keillor's final 'Prairie Home Companion'
Garrison Keillor delivers the news from Lake Wobegon one last time during his final show as host of "A Prairie Home Companion" on stage at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles Friday, July 1, 2016.
Nate Ryan | MPR file 2016

Updated: 5:20 p.m. | Posted: 4:30 p.m.

In a note to listeners and members of Minnesota Public Radio, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart on Tuesday attempted to fill in some of the blanks surrounding his decision late last year to sever business ties with Garrison Keillor.

When McTaggart announced the controversial decision on Nov. 29, he said Keillor had engaged in "inappropriate behavior" with a woman who worked on A Prairie Home Companion. He said the company had received complaints from two people, one of whom had been the object of unwelcome overtures by Keillor.

In his letter on Tuesday, McTaggart revealed that the woman's complaints covered "dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents ... over a period of years." He said the incidents included "requests for sexual contact and explicit descriptions of sexual communications and touching."

"We are confident of the facts that informed our decision and we stand by it," McTaggart said.

McTaggart also agreed to an interview with MPR News, which published a story Tuesday afternoon detailing how over many years Keillor fostered a work environment that left some women feeling mistreated, sexualized or belittled.

McTaggart said when he made the decision to cut ties with Keillor, he did not know of any other allegations regarding the host. 

And the CEO directly refuted a version of events that Keillor related in an email to the Star Tribune last year, in which he said he had laid a consoling hand on a woman's back. Keillor said in a later email to MPR News that the woman who filed the complaints had been solicited by a disgruntled former employee who was attempting to extort money from the company.

In the interview, McTaggart said the dispute with Keillor had "nothing to do" with extortion. In the letter to members and listeners, he said:

"In the allegations [the woman] 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." 

"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," McTaggart wrote.

McTaggart said that while a release of the woman's full list of allegations would satisfy any concerns about whether the decision to cut ties was warranted, MPR had chosen to withhold the full contents "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."

He also said he did not release details earlier because he wanted to respect the mediation process with Keillor's company.

"Unfortunately, as of today, those discussions have not produced any agreements," he said. "And with the significant new attention being paid by the press, I felt that it's really necessary for us to be as transparent as we can."

McTaggart asserted that MPR leadership had not known of the allegations against Keillor until last August, "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." Prairie Grand is Garrison Keillor's independent company. McTaggart said 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."

During that review, McTaggart said, "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." He said MPR repeatedly asked the attorney for the specific allegations, and eventually received them.

As to why MPR had removed Keillor-related content from its airwaves and websites, McTaggart explained Keillor and his companies own the rights. "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," he wrote. "We hope that we can agree with Garrison on a way to provide public access to these online archives."

In the interview, McTaggart said the decision to part ways with Keillor was "the most painful decision I've made as president. No one feels good about any of these circumstances. But it was the right decision."