Muse Reporting on popular and fine arts

The Keillor dilemma

Entertainment | Entertainment companies are changing the way they handle harassment complaints
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 12/01/17, 04:16 pm

For major U.S. media companies, accusations of sexual abuse by their leaders have become a debilitating disease that no one wants to catch.

Eight weeks after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein faced dozens of sexual assault accusations, the company he built with his brother, Bob Weinstein, is on life support. Numerous actors, directors, and producers broke ties with The Weinstein Co. (TWC) after the scandal surfaced. This week, the judge in a bankruptcy case for a firm that’s suing TWC (the suit dates to before the scandal) wrote in a ruling, “The status quo is not sustainable for TWC. It may well need to engage in a transaction that will be outside the ordinary course of its business, whether that be an asset sale or an influx of capital from a new investor.”

TWC’s situation explains in part why major corporations are altering their decision making on sexual assault. Companies’ attitudes toward high-profile sexual abusers have changed from “We can’t live without them”—hence the elaborate cover-up schemes— to “We can’t live with them.” If evolving journalistic standards helped break the dam of sexual assault accusations in the United States, the drain on corporate wallets from dealing with the fallout has kept the stream flowing.

Consider the case of public radio personality Garrison Keillor, who hosted the endearing and light-hearted radio program A Prairie Home Companion for 42 seasons. Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) fired Keillor this week, citing “inappropriate behavior.” Keillor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he committed an accidental act of indecorum when, intending to pat a colleague on the back, he accidentally reached underneath her untucked shirt. In the past few days, hundreds of Keillor’s fans flooded the radio network with complaints that his firing was unfair.

“We understand that some listeners are upset and know that the limited information we’ve made available at this time may not seem to justify such a consequential decision,” said Angie Andresen, an MPR spokeswoman. “We want to assure that this decision honors the highest standards they’ve come to expect from us.” MPR clarified Thursday that executives based their firing decision on one person’s complaint about multiple instances of improper conduct.

If Keillor is right, then he might have been the victim of a painful knee-jerk reaction from MPR. But that is a big if, given that the woman hasn’t offered her side of the story. Keillor has not said whether he will sue MPR for wrongful termination, but the option remains open.

If MPR is right, then the company might have acted appropriately to stop the victimization of a vulnerable employee by firing her aggressor. It continues to protect her privacy at great cost, knowing a fuller explanation might quiet its critics.

Many have asked, “How did we get here?” since the sexual assault landslide started. The answer is that countless companies neglected to nip sexual harassment in the bud the first time it came to light. That doesn’t mean everyone accused of sexual harassment should be fired automatically. Such policies could both encourage false allegations by spiteful co-workers and deter reporting by victims who don’t want to cause their abusers to lose their jobs. Zero tolerance leaves room for designing a punishment that fits the crime, according to Philadelphia-based employment attorney Jon Segal: “You don’t want to send the message to people that if there is an allegation and it’s found to be true, it’s automatic termination.”

Now that protecting sexual harassers is becoming more expensive than expelling them, maybe more companies will do the right thing.

Associated Press/Photo by Rafiq Maqbool Associated Press/Photo by Rafiq Maqbool Members of India's Rajput community protest the release of the Bollywood film Padmavati in Mumbai, India.

Bollywood shutout

An Indian filmmaker has government censors breathing down his neck, activists marching against him, and a bounty on his head, all before his movie has even premiered.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati tells the story of a Hindu queen from 16th century poetry who chose to kill herself rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi. Many in India accept the legend of Queen Padmini as historical fact, though scholars are uncertain.

Earlier this year, activists attacked Bhansali and threatened to burn down theaters that showed his movie, all because of rumors about a dream sequence that shows a romance between Padmini and her would-be captor. Bhansali said such a scene doesn’t appear in the film. But the mere suggestion that the queen, a beloved Hindu symbol, had a relationship with a Muslim sparked a storm of outrage.

Politician Suraj Pal Amu, a member of India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party, offered the equivalent of $1.5 million to anyone who beheaded Bhansali or the film’s lead actress, Deepika Padukone. The film was set for release Thursday, but has not won approval from the country’s Central Board of Film Certification. A committee in Parliament has taken interest in the controversy and called Bhansali to testify Thursday.

Violence by Hindu extremists is on the rise in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party took power in 2014. The party, Bharatiya Janata, promotes Hindutva, the idea that the Hindu way of life should define Indian culture. As Modi has gradually filled government posts throughout India with Hindu nationalists, prosecutions of crimes against religious minorities have slackened and local governments have closed Christian churches. The campaign against Bhansali’s film shows that just barely a crack is left open in India’s window of tolerance, and only conservative Hindu beliefs can squeeze through. —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Michael Conroy (file) Associated Press/Photo by Michael Conroy (file) Jim Nabors waves to fans after singing before the start of the Indianapolis 500 in 2014.

TV’s Gomer Pyle dies

Comedy icon Jim Nabors, known for playing the dim-but-good-hearted Southerner Gomer Pyle on television, died at his home in Hawaii Thursday. He was 87. The Alabama native first appeared as Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show in 1962, which led to the spinoff series Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. from 1964 to 1969. The juxtaposition of the affable and innocent Pyle with the hardened culture of his military unit brought tension-easing laughs to living rooms during the divisive Vietnam War. Nabors often surprised audiences with his twang-free, operatic singing voice, which he showcased on the short-lived Jim Nabors Hour variety show, during concert and nightclub appearances, and with his traditional singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” during prerace ceremonies at the Indianapolis 500 (see video below). Nabors, who was gay but rarely discussed his sexuality publicly, married his long-time companion Stan Cadwallader in 2013 in Washington state when same-sex marriage became legal there. —L.L.

Now playing

Michael W. Smith just released a new single from his upcoming album, due out in February 2018. The title song, “A Million Lights,” showcases Smith’s fantastic voice, which remains clear and crisp despite 30 years of professional use. The tune has an electronic dance music vibe, so church praise bands probably won’t pick it up en masse. Since it only uses pronouns and figurative language to refer to God, it might get some crossover play on secular radio stations and playlists. —L.L.

An open secret

On Friday’s The World and Everything in It, Megan Basham shines a light on an under-covered Hollywood sex scandal: pedophilia. The 2015 documentary An Open Secret revealed systemic abuse of adolescent boys in the entertainment industry, but it didn’t make the splash the Harvey Weinstein story has. “Over the years, the media have been dismissive and even sneering toward down-and-out former child stars because they exhibit the very kind of troubled behavior one would expect from abuse victims,” Basham notes. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital assistant editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Fri, 12/01/2017 05:38 pm

    Good reporting, Lynde.  One suggestion for a future article: NYT has an up-to-date list of people exposed for/accused of committing sexual harrassment.  I am curious to know how many of these people hail from the democratic/liberal side of the spectrum vs. republican/conservative? 

  • Xion's picture
    Posted: Fri, 12/01/2017 11:25 pm

    Sex dominates the media:  abortion, LBGTQ, sexual identity, sexual harassment, same sex marriage and so on.  God made us male and female.  Rather than celebrating this beautiful distinctive and teaching children proper ways to interact, the sexual revolution has devolved into sexual deviancy and confused morals as Romans One so accurately explains.

  • Bob C
    Posted: Mon, 12/04/2017 11:51 am

    I think JerryM asked an interesting question.  Essentially, does our nation’s sexual depravity have a particular link to Conservative or Liberal ideology?  Then Xion sort of says no. Political party ideology is not the problem, rather it was our nation’s sexual revolution (of the 1960s) which sowed the seeds of our current confusion over what good morals should look like, which is described in the book of Romans from the Bible.  I believe Xion's answer is correct.   

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 12/04/2017 11:57 pm

    Zion did not make a statement about conservative or liberal ideology.  I believe that more liberals subscribe to loose morals on sexuality.