Saturday, October 3, 2009

David Letterman Should Have Kept it in His Worldwide Pants

David Letterman is creepy. Not only has he admitted to sexual relationships with women on his staff, he turned the entire debacle into a nine-minute comedy routine on his popular late-night show.

Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, a CBS news producer, who prosecutors said was desperate and deep in debt, was charged Friday with trying to blackmail Letterman for $2 million in a plot that forced the comic to acknowledge the sexual trysts, according to authorities and the Associated Press.

“I’m glad you are here tonight, and I’m glad you are in such a pleasant mood,” Letterman, 62, told his unprepared audience during the taping of Thursday’s show, “because I have a story to tell you. Do you feel like a story?”

Inexplicably, Letterman then launched into a rambling account of his side of events, saying that about three weeks ago he had gotten into his car early one morning and found a package in the backseat containing a note. According to Letterman, the note said, “I know that you do some terrible, terrible things.”

The audience laughed, and in fact, continued laughing, used to Letterman’s comic timing, and clearly expecting a punch line – one that NEVER came.

Letterman went on to say that an extortionist planned to write a screenplay about him if he didn't pay.

“I want to reiterate how terrifying this moment was . . . was I going to get a tap on the shoulder? I am motivated by nothing but guilt.” Letterman even blamed his guilt on his “Lutheran” upbringing.

A meeting was arranged with the person, and then another, he said. The police were also notified.

“This whole thing has been quite scary,” Letterman said. “I had to testify before a grand jury, how I was disturbed and worried for myself, my family felt menaced and I told them all the creepy things.”

Letterman noted that the alleged extortionist had been arrested, adding “it’s been a very bizarre experience, and I hope to protect my job.”

For me, the most uncomfortable moment was when Letterman looked straight into the camera and said, "The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show."

"My response to that is yes, I have. Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Yes, it would, especially for the women,” Letterman said.

Whether those women wanted to make the relationships public is up to them, he added. But, by Friday, several women staffers were identified by media outlets as Letterman’s potential sexual partners.

During Thursday's taping, Letterman mixed in jokes while telling the story, keeping his audience, and eventually the public, totally off balance.

"I know what you're saying – 'I'll be darned, Dave had sex,'" Letterman quipped.

It was not immediately clear when the relationships took place; Letterman and longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko married in March. The couple began dating in 1986 and have a son, Harry, born in November 2003.

CBS spokesman Chris Ender said Thursday that, "Letterman's comments on the broadcast tonight speak for themselves."

Commentators and bloggers quickly accused Letterman of hypocrisy, as he has made a career of mocking politicians for their sexual transgressions. But, most of those critics ignored a much more troubling aspect to the case: blatant sexual harassment on the part of Letterman.

It was unclear how many women were involved in relationships with Letterman. All of the affairs took place before Letterman's marriage, said Tom Keaney, spokesman for Letterman's production company, ironically named, “Worldwide Pants.”

CBS issued a statement Friday that, "We think it was appropriate for Dave to disclose the matter publicly as he has, and we are continuing to cooperate with authorities."

CBS would not address questions about whether Letterman faced any disciplinary actions for relationships with the subordinates. CBS News also declined to address questions about whether Halderman's alleged actions call into question any of the work he has done for their news division.

It seems clear that Letterman was presumably in an employment position of power over these women staffers, capable of hiring, firing and promoting them. As a result, he could be subject to liability for sexual harassment. In addition, Letterman and CBS could also be vulnerable to claims of sexual favoritism by others if they believe these women were promoted because of their sexual relationships with him.

Letterman's Worldwide Pants issued a statement Friday saying the company has a written policy in its employee manual that covers harassment, and "Dave is not in violation of our policy and no one has ever raised a complaint against him." Stay tuned on that one.

On Friday, Halderman, a producer for CBS’ "48 Hours," pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court while being arraigned on one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable by five to 15 years in prison if convicted. Bail was set at $200,000, which he posted and was later released pending further legal proceedings.

Halderman's connection to Letterman was not immediately clear, but public arrest documents linked Stephanie Birkitt with some of the emails. The Associated Press reported that until August, Halderman had lived in Norwalk, Conn., with Birkitt. Birkitt, 34, also works on the "Late Show" as an assistant, and had worked at "48 Hours."

According to long-time Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, an investigation by his office revealed that Halderman waited outside of Letterman's home at 6 a.m. on Sept. 9 to deliver a package of embarrassing e-mails and photographic proof of the affairs to the comedian inside his limousine. Letterman said Halderman threatened to release a screenplay that would ruin his reputation.

According to authorities, Halderman wrote that he needed, "to make a large chunk of money" and said that Letterman's world would "collapse around him" if the damaging information about him were made public.

Three meetings between Letterman's lawyer and Halderman subsequently took place in Manhattan's Essex House hotel, the last two with the lawyer recording the conversations and prosecutors listening in, Morgenthau said.

At the last meeting, on Wednesday, the lawyer gave Halderman a phony check for $2 million, and Halderman deposited it in his bank account, Morgenthau said.

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