The David Letterman Extortion Plot: CBS Producer Indicted
I don't know about you, but I feel for David Letterman.
First there was that woman who stalked him for years before killing herself, then there was the guy who got disturbingly close to carrying out a plot to kidnap his son, and now this attempt by CBS producer Robert J. "Joe" Halderman to blackmail him out of $2 million or face exposure that he had sex with female staffers.
Halderman was indicted in the extortion scheme on one count of first-degree grand larceny and could face five to 15 years in jail if convicted. The CBS "48 Hours" producer was ensnared by his own plot when Letterman, instead of paying up, contacted his lawyer and then worked in concert with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office to get evidence on Halderman.
During the taping of yesterday's "Late Show," Letterman told his audience of the extortion attempt, which began with a package being left in his car on September 9th and ended with his testimony yesterday in front of a grand jury regarding what Halderman threatened to reveal:
I have had sex with women who work on this show. Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would, especially for the women.
I feel like I need to protect these people, I need to certainly protect my family.
If you missed it, here's the video:
It was fascinating to watch. The audience obviously didn't know how to take what Letterman was saying and there was plenty of nervous laughter. But it was also a testament to how Letterman has grown into this kind of elder statesmen of television. Not perfect mind you, but willing to be more than just a late night comic jock. Like when he does some of the most interesting and fearless interviews of politicians you'll find on TV, or when he talks about his heart surgery or other serious issues.
Personally, I think what he did was what Bill Clinton, John Edwards and a whole host of other political types should have done when they got caught with their pants down. Come clean, take the hit, and move on. But don't be stupid enough to lie about it.
Letterman ain't stupid.
But were these office romances or abuses of power? Anna N. at Jezebel says they were the latter, especially when talking about Stephanie Birkitt, an assistant of Letterman's who it's been rumored was one of the women in question:
And while Letterman's affairs with employees appear to have been consensual, f**king your assistant while she works for you is still an abuse of power. It's unfair to the assistant herself, and it's unfair to everyone who works with her. So if we can't muster outrage, we should at least be able to register disapproval — and maybe a little disgust.
MJ at mjsbigblog points out the irony:
Letterman goes ahead and pulls a Hugh Grant on his own show and admits to the workplace shenanigans. OMG all those Monica Lewinsky jokes back in the 90’s! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
But Cynthia Tucker at AJC.com agrees with my point about all those promiscuous politicians:
There is a lesson here for all the politicians who indulge in affairs and then get enmeshed in crooked schemes trying to cover them up. Two who come to mind are John Edwards, former Democratic candidate for president, and John Ensign, Republican senator from Nevada. Both have engaged in cover-ups that are quite possibly illegal; as usual, the cover-up may bring at least as much damage as the original sin.
Then there's Stephanie Guttmann of the Telegraph.com.uk believes that "even the creepy David Letterman deserves sympathy sometimes."
My take? Yeah, he got caught playing footsie with his employees but seriously, portraying these women as helpless virgins who were coerced into sex with the boss is not legitimate unless and until we hear that from some of the women.
Having worked in the media for years, I can tell you that just like in politics, the hot shot star of any show, male or female, is ripe for all kinds of sexual offers from staffers. Sometimes those offers are accepted, sometimes not.
Letterman will now be subject to the same brand of skewering he subjects other public figures to and that's only right. Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, you listening?
Jay Leno could only hope for this kind of publicity, not to mention ratings.
Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Reviews