Out in the Open

Former Garrison Keillor colleague feels radio host was unfairly 'swept up' in wave of allegations

Katy Sewall says it’s hard to publicly stand by someone accused of inappropriate behaviour, but the allegations don’t square with the man she knows.
Garrison Keillor is the former host of the popular Minnesota Public Radio program A Prairie Home Companion. (The Associated Press)

UPDATE: Since this interview was published, Minnesota Public Radio has further detailed its decision to terminate its contracts with Garrison Keillor. The station told listeners in an email that an attorney for Keillor's accuser presented allegations of "dozens" of incidents "over a period of years" that included "requests for sexual contact and explicit descriptions of sexual communications and touching" over emails and other written messages. Keillor responded to the complaint in a statement to Minnesota's Star Tribune, calling it "a highly selective and imaginative piece of work."

We reached back out to our guest Katy Sewall, who replied that she doesn't have anything to add on the subject as she feels the full story still isn't known.

When news broke that Minnesota Public Radio had cut ties with longtime A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor in November over allegations of inappropriate behaviour, Katy Sewall heard about it in texts from friends.

"People were writing me and saying things like, 'Oh, this must just change how you feel about him so much,'" says Katy, a San Francisco-based radio producer who co-hosts the podcast The Bittersweet Life.

"And I said, 'No, it doesn't change how I feel about him at all. That is not the person I know.'"

Katy considers Garrison Keillor a mentor. She worked on his show for a brief time, and even stayed at his house for a month.

Katy Sewall is a radio producer and host of the podcast The Bittersweet Life. (Courtesy of Katy Sewall)

When Keillor was let go, he claimed it was the result of a misunderstanding. He said he accidentally put his hand on a woman's bare back in an attempt to console her, which led to his termination.

But MPR didn't detail the allegations, and no accusers came forward publicly to tell their side of the story.

Keillor says he has since entered mediation with MPR.

The event put Katy in the difficult position of many friends and family of people accused of inappropriate behaviour.

"It's the warnings other people give you, or even that I give myself sometimes … What if it was really terrible, and it came out, and they all look at you and say, 'I can't believe you stood by him'?" she says.

"But at the same point, I have to judge it based on the person I have known all these years."

Katy doesn't believe that her old mentor could have done anything so inappropriate that he deserved to be fired over it. But she's open to changing her mind in light of new evidence.

In the meantime, she has sympathy for him.

"This is a giant, societal movement. It's one that I'm very happy is happening, to be honest," Katy says of the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men.

"But I think that in any big change, there's going to be people who are swept up into it who don't necessarily belong."