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David Letterman reveals he is victim of extortion, admits affairs with female staff

In television on 10/03/2009 at 10:09 am

Here’s what you know, if you saw Thursday night’s Late Show with David Letterman or read the news story online last night, both of which I did:
After his usual monologue, Letterman told his audience that a man was arrested Thursday in New York after Letterman, having consulted with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, gave a bogus cheque for $2 million to the man, who had demanded money in return for not producing a screenplay or writing a book revealing what Letterman himself described to his audience as “terrible”, “embarrassing” and “creepy” things the talk-show host has done. You also know that Letterman admitted to testifing to a grand jury about all the “creepy things” he has done, specifically that, “I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”
You might also know, from reports since then, that the man who has been indicted on charges of attempted grand larceny is (Robert) Joe Halderman, an Emmy-winning producer of another CBS show, 48 hours. In the statement, widely quoted by news agencies and bloggers, CBS also said: “Mr. Letterman addressed the issue during the show’s broadcast this (Thursday) evening, and we believe his comments speak for themselves.”
Bill Carter of the New York Times reported just an hour ago that CBS is expected to have a press conference today.
What’s not yet known is how this has changed the way Letterman is regarded by his audience.
He had sex with female employees? He’s certainly not the first, but Letterman has always worked the decent, midwesterner angle, the publicity-shunning regular guy who just happens to have a talk show. The scandal-magnet public figures? They are the butt of HIS jokes.
Will this affect his position of authority — and his post 9/11 show and his recent interview with President Barack Obama are among the signs that he does indeed have that authority — from which to freely mock those who are now his fellow fallen public figures?
I suspect the bold nature of Letterman’s admission reveals he will bounce back.
Props to Letterman and Co. for an excellent damage-control strategy: Get the story out in front of a studio audience that laughs it all off because they are given no apparent notice or warning of the gravity of the situation. Watching reveals that audience members take Letterman’s (intended? nervous?) cues that the “little story” he wants to tell them is like many other self-mocking tales. There is vigorous laughter, then slightly nervous laughter and only a couple of gasps. It’s not until 8 minutes into the 10 minute segment — which came after a business-as-usual monologue — that Letterman gets sombre.
About further detail on his revelation of having sex with female employees, he says it’s “a decision for them to make, if they want to come public, if I want to go public and talk about these relationships, but what you don’t want is a guy who says, ‘I know you have sex with women so I would like $2 million or I’m going to make trouble for you.’ ”
Letterman goes on: “It’s been a very bizarre experience. I feel like I need to protect these people. I need to certainly protect my family. I need to protect myself. I hope to protect my job and the friends, everybody who has been very supportive through this. And I don’t plan to say much more about this, on this particular topic. So thank you for letting me bend your ear.”
Then, he switches back to joke mode, and the audience roars in relief: “Now I know what you’re saying. ‘I’ll be darned. Dave had sex?’ That’s what the grand jury said…”
It was one of the wierdest 10 minutes of TV I have watched.

– Denise Duguay

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