The public and private Letterman
The odds are very, very good that David Letterman screwed up: The interoffice affairs that almost got him blackmailed are likely to have occurred sometime during his long relationship with the woman who’s now his wife. That’s a humiliating thing for her and for him, and there’ll be private fallout for it. But as he did back in June, when he wrestled with the propriety of some borderline Sarah Palin jokes right from the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Letterman turned a personal embarrassment into something publicly riveting. His account of the attempted blackmail by someone inside CBS — late Thursday the network announced that the alleged extortionist works at “48 Hours” — was by turns funny, scary, abashed, and contrite. Details were few, but they’ll come out, and they’re sure to be worthy of contrition. Whatever personal failings Letterman may have, though, the man’s a born broadcaster, and canny enough to know that he has advantages no blackmailer can match — a big reservoir of public goodwill, and a platform from which to get out ahead of the story. Tonight he was shrewd enough to use them, and human enough to make it feel like something other than a gimmick.