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Oct. 2 2009 - 10:27 am | 71 views | 1 recommendation | 29 comments

David Letterman: ‘I had sex.’ Laughter! Applause!

I’m having a very mixed reaction to this whole David Letterman thing.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s his 10-minute confession on his show last night. The part I have a problem with is the audience reaction. Now watch carefully. At minute 8, he finally gets to the allegation made by his blackmailer, and his own response: “I have had sex with women who work on this show. My response is, yes, I have.”

Audience reaction: laughter. Applause.

Hold on a mo. This guy’s married. With a small child. (See a photo of the family here.) He’s admitting to committing adultery with women who work for him. This is funny? This is applaudable?

I don’t buy into the charge on blogs like Gawker that Letterman is somehow as accountable for his transgressions as, say, President Clinton.

He’s a famous, rich and, to some, charming man — the fact that he screwed staffers should raise serious ethical questions, like “Did he use his power and influence to take advantage of the women?” Even if he didn’t do so intentionally, it’s certainly possible that’s the case and he’s just as guilty as those he’s lampooned.

I don’t know; he’s not an elected public official. He’s an entertainer. There’s a bar full of old-time stars somewhere in Hollywood right now laughing at all the fuss. But that doesn’t mean we need to join in.

No one deserves an extortion attempt. We don’t need to punish Letterman for his extramarital affairs. But we don’t need to reward him, either.

(Final two yen: of all the ways to get a screenplay read, how about leaving your treatment in the back of a late-night talk show host’s car stapled to an extortion note? Huh? I mean, that’s creative!)


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  1. collapse expand

    I’m guessing that laughter was less amusement at the adultery than shock/nervousness, no? People often laugh inappropriately because they don’t know what else to do. If they do think adultery is funny…

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    I agree the audience reaction was strange. They at first seemed to think Dave was launching into a long joke, so they laughed at points. Then they seemed to get that he was revealing something serious and the crowd hushed. But because Dave himself would then try to make light of his situation, they laughed again though I could sense confusion still. I suppose if you have to tell the world about this, it’s not a bad idea to guide the audience through a series of emotions so everyone can move on. Though I suspect this will still be in the news until all the details emerge.

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    I think that Letterman coming out publically makes perfect sense. First it defuses the whole extortion problem and second it puts the entire bull-crap morality in it’s place. The “shame on you” is the tip of the iceberg of a bigger social problem of socially coercive personal morality.

    My thought is such “shame on you” opinion is pretty goofy. The following are the scopes that this is relevant to:

    Scope 1: Legal
    For starters, Letterman has stated he had sex with someone he works with/that works for him. So, between Letterman, the lady in question and his employer there may be some issue with sexual harassment. We can all stand by and “Ooo and Aaah” during this process but our thoughts have no bearing.

    We also have the extortionist trying to make a buck off the problem which clearly falls into legal territory. Yet no real “Shame on him” in the article and clearly there is a deeper social issue with extortion than adultery.

    Scope 2: Interpersonal
    Once you untangle the situation from coercion (on Letterman’s part) it just becomes another sexual act between consenting adults.

    The ridiculous issue is all this Puritanical morality yapping. The author (here) considers that there is (somewhere) some kind of public consensus on “endorsement of adultery”. Or that there shouldn’t be:

    “Hold on a mo. This guy’s married. With a small child. … He’s admitting to committing adultery with women who work for him. This is funny? This is applaudable?”

    My answer: It is funny to some and not to others. Depends on your personal opinion–big deal.

    The extortion thing just points it out–we live in a society that is used to leveraging Puritanical morality against others. Frankly this is more annoying to me than the situation with Letterman.

    People are going to (consensually) hop on each other and they may not always do it by your rules of conduct. They don’t care about your rules of conduct and there’s no reason why they should. Now, if they were asking *you* to join in then you’d have something to squawk about.

    As per the Letterman family–I have no idea how this impacts them and frankly it’s none of my business. If I were friends with, say, his wife and she called me saying, “Boo hoo my husband is a bastage” I very well may sympathize with her but it’s still between her and her hubby.

    Society isn’t the proper scope for enforcing personal morality.

  4. collapse expand

    Very disappointed with Dave. My wife and I watched the show last night – at least until the end of Dave’s mea culpa. Letterman is the same age as me, 62. I have a nine year old grandson but no money or fame. Now who was Dave having sex with? Was it the cute girl in the lettermans jacket who handed out prizes to the audience? Perhaps she was the young girl who worked as a writer, desperately trying to advance her career? It is hard not to relate the man to the comedy. His jibes at Roman Polanski seemed like shooting sitting ducks compared to his own indiscretions. I’m sorry for his family. Tom Medlicott

  5. collapse expand

    He’s been married for about five months. I don’t know when he might have had these relationships, but he certainly did not admit to adultery. Not that we really should give a damn (he’s not an elected official and he’s never made a fuss about flouting family values only to turn out to be a hypocrite). Maybe he cheated on his girlfriend. Either way, can this really deserve the attention it is getting? Seriously?

    • collapse expand

      Rick: Letterman hasn’t been married long to Regina Lasko, but they’ve been together for many, many years. The length of their relationship was a running joke. They began dating in February 1986, when Regina was — oh, irony — a Letterman staffer. Their son is 6. So, yeah, I’d call it adultery.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I guess you can call it that if you wish…except that it isn’t. I’m not a fan of anyone cheating on their significant other, but I’m kind of wondering who gets to set the time frame on adultery? I kind of thought that this is why one has to be married to be guilty of that particular offense. Again- not that any of this matters one bit. I don’t watch Letterman to soak up his morality … I like Stupid Pet Tricks.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          I thought about the timeframe – not that it was any of my business – and who knows when he had the purported affairs. Maybe he and Regina had an “open relationship?” It really isn’t important, although I consider it a bit tawdry to elicit or accept sex from people who basically work for you. Neither you or me have ever experienced superstardom outside of our family tables. Perhaps all of this is the “norm.” Tom Medlicott

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            Letterman was very particular in the terms he used. He simply said that he had sex with female members of his staff. He didn’t cop to cheating or having an affair or straying or pulling a Sanford. It seems to me that he has (or had, when he wasn’t married) an agreement with the woman who is now his wife that he could sleep with other women, as long as he didn’t fall in love with them or neglect his obligations.

            Now, I’m going to turn on Fox News and see what they’re saying! I want to see what Loofa Man has to say about all this.

            By the way, Rick, if you ever meet O’Reilly, you have to ask him, “Is that a falafel in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

            Also, Chris Claremont still sucks.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Letterman had another long term relationship with another writer/comedian/staffer in the 80’s, Merrill Markoe. She was the head writer of the old Letterman morning shoe, and went from there on to first head writer on Late Night.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    We don’t know what the “rules” of their relationship is before they were married or now that they are married. As Rick pointed out he is not on an elected official or an advocate of so called “family values”. TV celebrity screwing around is about as news worth as dog bites man, unless of course one is looking for an excuse to mount the soap box and spout self righteously.

  7. collapse expand

    I’ve yet to watch the video, but with all this controversy, I’m thinking I should.

  8. collapse expand

    I don’t know that he cheated on his wife. This could have happened before his marriage. And who knows what kind of agreement they had before that time.

    If he did cheat then the applause isn’t appropriate, but he didn’t frame it as such. We’ll have to see what the reality is.

    In the meantime, adultery still shouldn’t be subjected to such public scrutiny. It’s between the parties involved and that’s it. At least it should be. Call me old fashioned. :-)

  9. collapse expand

    The audience reaction is likely explained by the sheer daring of Letterman’s ‘confession’. He could have gone on air not addressed it at all. He could have done a Michael Richards and begged his audience for forgiveness. Instead he treated the matter as a joke, milking it for laffs.

    More interesting than his studio audience’s reaction is the (lack of) reaction from the usual suspects. Where are the feminists? Here’s a creepy guy who’s used his position to have sex with several staffers. This is the sort of thing that used to spark outrage. Yeah I know, c’mon it’s Dave!

  10. collapse expand

    Justin’s right – we don’t have enough information yet to draw conclusions about Letterman’s sexcapades. I will say this, though: two million dollars either means there’s much more to this story or the “Emmy-award winning 48 Hours producer” was a really bad extortionist.

  11. collapse expand

    And how about some kudos for Letterman for doing the right thing and going straight away to the DA?

  12. collapse expand

    He’s all the proof we need that society has evolved during his tenure on Late Night TV- he ceased being relevant a long time ago. This would be a good time for him to step down.

  13. collapse expand

    I actually have heard this all happened when he wasn’t married. But I haven’t read into it.

  14. collapse expand

    The women who chose to have sex with him made a choice. Unless they were co-erced, what is there to say? The guy’s a lech? Abuses his power? Screws around. Ho-um. He’s hardly unique.

  15. collapse expand

    Well, I’m a man, 60, married, and yes, I say he was cheating – unless his then ‘girlfriend’ knew about it and accepted it. Can hardly believe that… because why would she then have married him?
    If you live together for so many years, your relation is the same as a marriage. The signatures, the rings, the official papers, have nothing to do with that. Cheating is a question of mentality. There is nothing macho there. So yes, I fully agree with you, Lisa.

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    Read Wasabi Mama for your daily dose of sinus-clearing rant on parenting, work, media and entertainment. If you like a fresh nasal passage, please click below my photo to "follow me." For more on me, please visit www.lisacullen.com.

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