Who cares who Letterman has sex with?

Using his show as the vehicle for confession also puts him at a great advantage - he’s in the power seat. He’s free to say exactly what he wants, with no one editing what he says or steering the conversation with questions.
I’m watching David Letterman’s confession about sleeping with several female staffers of the Tonight Show over the years, and I’m finding it thoroughly creepy. Not because of the actual confession, but because of the audience reaction. It felt exactly like that moment in Natural Born Killers when Mickey fights Mallory’s dad; it’s reminiscent of Leave it to Beaver, laugh track intact, despite how thoroughly inappropriate and incongruous it is.

Like when he talks about finding the package of blackmail material in the backseat of his car: “I just want to reiterate how terrifying this moment is. Because there’s something very insidious about... is he standing right there, is he hiding under the car, am I going to get a tap on the shoulder?...” [Cue Laughter from Audience.]

The thing is, it isn't Letterman that's cuing the laughter. There is no joke in Letterman's 10-minute long monologue, a straight-forward recounting of the horror of finding out that someone has 1) Broken into his car, leaving him feel physically violated, and 2) threatened to shake the foundations of his life by revealing a secret, leaving him feel physically violated. The audience finds this giggle-worthy?!

There's a range of other emotions I could imagine, like sympathy that he had to go through that, or self-righteousness because you would never give anyone ammunition to blackmail you, or disappointment in the moral fiber of this culture. Uncomfortable laughter, even. But chuckles and applause, hooting and hollering? That is some grand disconnect. I wonder how many members of the audience thought it was just some epically long, serious-sounding joke. About five minutes into the ten minute story, the hoots and applause become less frequent.

Letterman told the world that Robert "Joe" Halderman, a producer for CBS news show 48 Hours, tried to blackmail him, saying unless Letterman gave him $2 million he would air out the host’s dirty little secrets in a book and movie. So, Letterman pressed charges and came clean on air, admitting to cheating on his wife who he has been with for 23 years.

Two women have since been named, partners in long-standing affairs with Letterman. Stephanie Birkitt, who has worked on Letterman’s show since 1996, dated Halderman, and it was Birkitt’s diaries that were leveraged as proof that Letterman was sneaking around. Holly Hester has come forward saying that she and Letterman had an affair when she was an intern in the early 1990s. Hester even told the press that she was “madly in love” with Letterman, and “would have married him.”

So that’s fine, I understand why he came out with it, because even if he did shut Halderman out, the press would still get their hands on the story (although considering the relationships took place in the 90s, I’m surprised it was kept quiet so long). I’m just surprised he didn’t do it on 60 Minutes. But hey, if your marriage is going to hell, you may as well get the associated ratings, right? 4.2 million viewers tuned in to watch Letterman apology to his wife the night after his confession.

Using his show as the vehicle for confession also puts him at a great advantage - he’s in the power seat. He’s free to say exactly what he wants, with no one editing what he says or steering the conversation with questions. The only interjection besides the audience was an offstage “Oh no,” from the Tonight Show’s band leader, Paul Schaeffer. On Letterman, you’ve got bright overhead lights and a cheery, campy atmosphere, rather than the dark chairs of shame reserved for 60 Minutes guests.

Putting it on his own show demonstrates that Letterman is a “take the bull by the horns” kind of guy and was, after all, only doing what guys do. He made jokes the following day that even the OnStar lady wasn’t speaking to him, and about how truly sorry he was for hurting those around him, especially his wife, but he did it in a way that a cheeky little boy who knows he’ll be forgiven does. I’m wondering how much the on-air Dave matches up with the off-air Dave.

According to a poll on PerezHilton.com, only 18 per cent believed that CBS should fire Dave for having sex with Tonight Show staff. Technically, he didn’t do anything wrong, just personally amoral, and that’s not what CBS cares about. As long as Letterman’s ratings stay high, his future is secure. CBS does have a serious policy that states that any employees having a relationship must tell human resources so they can monitor the workplace environment for things like favoritism or potential sexual harassment. But, Letterman doesn’t work for CBS, he works for World Wide Pants, his production company.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone would care as much if he hadn’t given the story a primetime slot. An aging Hollywood powerhouse has sex outside his relationship? With people he works with? Gasp! No one’s looking to Letterman as a moral compass. I’m just waiting for Leno to confess to the same thing, but only if someone tries to extort him too.

//Megan Drysdale

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com