Babies and Bathwater, Garrison Keillor and the Me Too Movement

I’ve been reading about Garrison Keillor, ousted host of a long-running program on NPR called A Prairie Home Companion. I was an on-and-off listener, not a huge fan. His stereotyped portrayals of women in his stories palled after awhile. And then there were his frequent references to gorgeous women and his attraction to them; given that he’d become a late-life father … it just didn’t sit well.

According to reports, Keillor intimidated all his staff, male and female. But he made overtures to the young women and put a limerick on a wall about men’s penises being unable to resist arousal in the presence of a young, nubile female.

The cleverest limericks do often include sex. Here’s one by an unknown author:

There was an old lady of Brewster
Who would mutter, whenever I gewster,
“You’re losing the knack,
Or you’re missing the crack,
‘Cause it don’t feel as good as it yewster.”

He just didn’t seem to know that a wall in plain sight of everyone on the show was not the right place for a limerick about penis arousal.

But he could be absolutely brilliant. His essay monologues on various topics could bring me to tears and then laughter. Garrison Keillor is above all else a writer. His joy is in creating clever ways to discuss subjects not easy to talk about. But in the end, he was done in by the very format he’d created for his Middle-American, family-oriented Sunday radio show.


I felt the same about Charlie Rose. I told my cousin Alan that I couldn’t watch him because he was so controlling and because he was far less interested in female guests, whom he patronized unless they were very famous, like opera singers, and those he fawned over. Watching him made me angry and uncomfortable, so I stopped.

But his political reporting was excellent and his guests were often fascinating people, who had time on his program to say more than sound bites, when they could get a word in edgewise.

Another NPR radio host to bite the dust was Leonard Lopate, 30-year veteran of WNYC. He apparently bullied his staff and spoke condescendingly to the women. 75% of his guests were men, and when he interviewed women it was often just embarrassing.

But on the other hand the guests he picked could be wonderful, especially the writers, and he did a thorough, well-prepared interview. I respected his knowledge even though he could throw it in his guest’s faces: “Well,” he’d say, and then ask an undermining question like: “but didn’t he do most of his best works during that same period?”

So what do we do, folks, with mixed feelings like these? Is the moral of all this that we can’t have it both ways? To some extent that’s what the “me too” movement is all about. I hope, how I hope, what it’s doing is making us more conscious of what kinds of things women and men find threatening, and under what circumstances. It’s also raised the issue higher than ever about the shameful consequences of the belittlement of women in this country.

Perhaps some of the heads that are rolling don’t deserve it. Perhaps they are what our military has grown so fond of calling “collateral damage.” But I think we do well at least to question the bathwater we’re throwing so many babies out with.

And speaking of bathwater, check out the bathtub photos on YouTube of Leeann Tweedon, the woman who was so upset by the photo of Al Franken pretending to reach for her breasts that she cost him his job.

3 thoughts on “Babies and Bathwater, Garrison Keillor and the Me Too Movement

  1. I loved Garrison’s Wobegon day stories. If you like stories of the rural Midwest, check out Michael Perry’s Population:485. You’ll appreciate his writing style.


  2. I read this post yesterday and have been mulling it over since. We have several cases here in Canada of media/broadcasting/political icons who have been recently dethroned but who were brilliant at their jobs. Initially many people refused to believe the bad stuff, but when so many people come forward it became hard to deny. The dilemma becomes when it is just one person accusing, one hesaid/she said. Is the person to be tried in the court of public opinion? Say you have a brilliant brain surgeon, who treats the staff horribly, do you get rid of him, waste all that training and talent? Or does someone in authority tell him he can’t throw scissors in the OR. People like that should have been spoken to about their behavior long ago, but the companies involved let it go on and on to the point that it’s now blown up in their faces, and then they proclaim they didn’t know…..They are partially to blame too….I doubt this will be the case in the future. Anyway, it was an interesting topic. I am liking your blog, the bio about aging caught my attention, but then I am an older blogger too. There are some of us out there!


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