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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why does anyone care whom David Letterman slept with?

Not only do I not understand how this David Letterman blackmail thing is a story, I don’t understand how it’s blackmail.

Are we so fucked up as a culture that merely the suggestion that someone is having sex with a willing, of-age partner — and not even one of the same gender! — is something to be embarrassed about?

People magazine makes it very clear that there was nothing at all scandalous going on:

The former staffer says that Letterman, 62, carried on a sexual relationship with one of his “peers, a woman close to him, not an intern.”

At the time the relationship didn’t raise too many eyebrows, adds the source. “It wasn’t a big deal because he wasn’t married. And we heard he had a girlfriend (Regina Lasko, whom Letterman married in March 2009), but she never came around, so it just wasn’t a big deal.”

Another close source, who has a long history with the Late Show, says that the program’s grueling schedule – 15-hour workdays are typical – helped breed inter-office hookups.

“In politics it’s the same thing,” says the source. “People who live it, eat it, breathe it … [It’s] not some sort of predatory, ‘Let’s hire beautiful women so we can feast on them’ kind of thing. That’s just not the way it works.”

The former staffer adds of Letterman, “He never acted inappropriate with any of the female staff. He was very kind, and I never recall anyone saying anything at all bad about him.”

At worst, Letterman is perhaps guilty of being unfaithful to the girlfriend mentioned… depending on the timing and the details of his relationship with the girlfriend, of course. (Just because he later married her doesn’t necessarily mean they were committed to each other at this point. And even if they were, is this even salacious enough to qualify as blackmail material, never mind public scandal?)

There are lots of juicy details, of course — including the implication that that blackmailer was operating not only out of financial desperation but of jealousy:

Former David Letterman assistant Stephanie Birkitt has emerged as the woman at the center of the shocking plot to extort $2 million from the Late Show host, but who exactly is she?

Birkitt, 34, until recently lived with Robert “Joe” Halderman, Letterman’s alleged blackmailer and a 48 Hours producer, according to multiple news sources…

(The Daily Beast and The Observer have more on the blackmailer, if you really need the sad details.)

What’s really appalling is how the “news” media has chosen to characterize the story: “Did David Letterman ruin his image?” USA Today asks. The Daily Mail gleefully sniggers: “David Letterman ‘kept a secret bedroom at his television studio for trysts with female staff.’” The Los Angeles Times wonders, “Should David Letterman be fired for having affairs with members of his staff?” The anti-normal-sex idiocy goes on and on.

Is this really the kindergarten depths to which we’ve descended? Why does anyone care whom David Letterman slept with?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Gail

    So, was she an “assistant” or a “peer?” I think it makes a difference.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Yes, that’s the point, I think.

    I was ignoring the stories on this issue until this QOTD came up, then I read up on it a little.

    The issue the media is trying to make of all this is whether there was any workplace harassment or coercion involved (and, more sensationally, did Letterman have an on-set casting couch?).

    Blackmail attempts suggest that there’s something to hide, and where there’s smoke there’s fire, or so the media hopes.

  • Mimi

    I just don’t care. And I wonder if I should — like, when the President sleeps with an intern, I think that’s yucky and an abuse of authority (although I don’t think it necessarily makes him a bad President). So I’m trying to decide if it’s the same thing with Letterman, and I should disapprove on grounds of abuse of authority… but it just keeps coming down to: I don’t care. Do we have to get all judgmental about EVERYTHING?

  • Cyndy

    Now if he had been sleeping with Leno that would be news.

  • Pollas

    Bottom line, sex sells. Sex or violence.

  • chuck

    Well, the one good thing that emerges from all of this is that Bill Clinton has applied for the job of part time host of Late Night

  • PJK

    Only in the USA does anybody care about this kind of thing. In any other western country (and probably most of Asia) nobody would care except, for the gossip magazines.

  • Grinebiter

    I don’t know from Letterman, but I just wonder one thing: a certain other hoo-ha, at which the rest of the world laughed, may actually have functioned as a smokescreen to hide a change of regulation at your FCC. Where, I am told, Colin Powell’s brother was weakening the regime against media concentration. And almost no one noticed because of the feeding frenzy over Nipplegate. Ergo: what else was going down the day this Letterman thing blew?

  • Mike

    As a staunch liberal, the son of a feminist, and a man who came of age in the 70’s, it had been burned into my psyche that a man having sex with an employee was taking advantage of a power imbalance in a way that was just shy of a slave owner screwing his slaves. It just had to be: he MUST be the aggressor, and if she were to refuse his advances he would fire her and ruin her career, leaving her destitute. An upstanding man would be scandalized by the appearance of this kind of impropriety, so only a cad would behave in this fashion.

    But times have changed. It looks like a fair number of women turned down Slick Willie before he became President, and their careers continued on track. It seems to me the zeitgeist now no longer automatically condemns sex between boss and subordinates.

    But that doesn’t mean a blackmailer wouldn’t want to take a shot. If the viewing public or the sponsors of The Late Show decided they didn’t want to watch / sponsor Dave anymore because of a “scandal”, it doesn’t matter what the law is. The blackmailer was counting on Dave being afraid of loosing his sponsors. Being right is no defense against public opinion. This could easily be the “dry ice” example that disproves the “where there’s smoke there’s fire” adage.

  • Paul

    Letterman is fine; he never was the “Family Values” type. Yes, he probably cheated on his girlfriend now wife. But at least he does go around claiming he is Mr. “Family Values” like some of our politicians (can you just see the grin on all “Fake News” reporters/ commentators and the Palin fringe). This has been a tough summer, for Dave, for our economy but at least he did not end up on the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC).

  • Althea

    At the risk of getting David_in_EH all worked again (from back when Letterman was apologizing for his Sarah Palin debacle), I’ve been astounded at how many people think there’s something to this. The day after I checked out the responses on a couple of sites (idle curiosity), and the ones that were either outraged at Letterman were in the majority, but the ones that defended him were just as strange. None of them said what I thought was obvious: This is no big deal, people! So Dave got some in his off hours, people do those things. It seems pretty clear he didn’t do anybody dirt. Nice of him to bring it to our attention so that when it hit the press we wouldn’t be shocked – and of course, so we’d hear his side first – but that’ll do for me, thanks. Unless they want to tell us he’s been doing altar boys, I’m still a Dave fan.

  • RogerBW

    Beats reporting real news.

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