Growing 'outrage' over Garrison Keillor appearance in New Marlborough

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NEW MARLBOROUGH — He might have done good work. But they don't want him to keep in touch.

Even so, every ticket is sold for Saturday's interview with humorist and public radio star Garrison Keillor at the New Marlborough Meeting House, which seats just under 300.

"A campaign is being waged," said author and Sandisfield resident Simon Winchester this week, about his upcoming interview with Keillor for the New Marlborough Village Association's Music & More series. "There is a gathering storm of people who say this is an outrage."

Local police will be on guard during the event — just in case.

"If people get in and start creating a fuss," Winchester said.

It is an allegation of sexual misconduct and reports of other inappropriate behavior that got Keillor, 76, and his show, "A Prairie Home Companion," ousted from Minnesota Public Radio in late 2017. It also stirred local residents who are fed up with yet another #MeToo account from the world of male power.

A townwide email list caught fire with opposition and calls for a cancellation, as did emails to Village Association board members — even one who said she was "a dedicated fan of 'A Prairie Home Companion.' "

"Unfortunately, men of ego, hubris and entitlement continue to behave in such ways while being elevated in business and society with little consequence," wrote Michele Shalaby, the former chairwoman of the New Marlborough Select Board, in an email to association board members.

President Donald Trump was also dragged into it.

"Our current President Trump is an example," Shalaby wrote. "Garrison Keillor is another."

The association brings cultural events to the community, and also maintains the Meeting House and the Village Green. Board member Judith Friedlander said it was resident Mitchel Levitas, the award-winning New York Times journalist, who interviewed various personalities for 20 years of the Music & More series since its inception 25 years ago. Winchester took his place after he stepped down. Levitas died in June.

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After being besieged by calls to cancel the interview, the association's board voted on the side of curiosity and culture, however pockmarked by the very human, and the very sordid. The board issued a statement saying that it is "not a political organization," and whose intent was to hear Keillor talk about his "many contributions to the cultural life of this country."

"Our board has had a robust discussion about whether to cancel ... our decision to do so does not diminish the serious nature of the accusations made against Mr. Keillor."

Winchester was in Minnesota in February, and invited Keillor knowing the situation full-well, and on the condition that everything was game for discussion.

"There's no way we can have an interview without talking about the whole range of his bad behavior," Winchester said. "I hope this will be a frank and candid discussion to encompass all. Garrison has made it clear that everything's on the table."

Winchester says that Keillor isn't the first man he knows to be tangled up in a #MeToo scandal, even indirectly. During last year's series he interviewed former New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma, who left his position amid a firestorm about an essay by Canadian radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. Critics say the essay minimized the sexual assault charges Ghomeshi was acquitted of in 2016.

Yet Winchester, who also had been a fan of Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac," said he'd rather not make interviewing alleged offenders of sexual misconduct his specialty.

But he sees value in an exploration of one of the era's most sensitive issues.

"I want to get a discussion about the #MeToo movement from him," he said. "A `What have you got to say for yourself?' This is a chance for a real discussion about the issues involved with a real live person, not a person who is hiding behind a legal firewall."

While he says he is "apprehensive," going headlong into controversy is not something Winchester shies away from — he's Sandisfield's town moderator, after all.

"I do make a point at annual town meeting that all the anger must be directed toward me," he said. "I believe I'm ready. I'm a reasonable man — I believe in kindness and courtesy and that everyone should have the opportunity to give their opinion."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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