October 2, 2009

lessons from letterman

By now, you've probably heard about Letterman's extortion case since Anderson Cooper and the gossip blogs are all over it. I was one of those schleps watching The Late Show last night innocently waiting for a top ten list when Dave started a story that took an unexpected turn. Like many in the audience, I thought the whole thing was a joke and continued shopping online for shoes with one eye on the television.

There's no denying it, Dave can tell a story - perhaps the best in the business at this particular skill. The story was actually really funny, recounting the discovery of a mysterious box in his car, which contained a note threatening to reveal the details of "creepy activities" from Dave's past. He talks about how the box scared him, so he called his attorney who agreed to meet with the guy to see if he was serious. From there, they went to the district attorney's office where they advised Dave to deliver a fake check to the guy (via his lawyer), so they could catch him in the act of blackmail.

Dave goes on to explain that he had just spent the morning testifying before a grand jury to recount the details of his creepy activities along with the blackmail story. The jury determined there was sufficient evidence to arrest the guy (the audience is still laughing). By this point, I literally thought the creepy activities would be going out to get the morning paper in his underwear. Or texting while driving.

Instead Dave said: "I have had sex with women who work for me on this show. Would it be embarrassing if this would be made public? Perhaps it would. Especially for the women."

Online shoe shopping officially halted.

This is a legit revelation/confession? Is this Dave's Mark Sanford moment? Did he have sexual relations with that woman? Why am I not embarrassed for him or angry at him? I'm mixed up and confused.

We've had our fair share of adultery confessions among public figures in recent years. Since the Clinton/Lewinsky incident, it's felt like a scandalous political waterfall... McGreevy, Spitzer, Craig, Edwards, Sanford... some broke actual laws, others just broke marital vows. Either way, the media is all over this stuff like white on rice. Sex sells. It's not for me to decide whether politicians should answer to the public for their personal (legal) indiscretions. On one hand, the voters have a right to know who they're electing to office. On the other hand, do their extracurriculars really affect their work in office? We could scurry around this argument for ages.

Now, David Letterman is not a politician. It's evident that he did something wrong, but he's only answerable to his family, the law, and possibly CBS if this affects the ratings. We don't know with whom or when these affairs took place (although, it's been reported that one of the women was the girlfriend of the blackmailer). Frankly, I think he gave all the information he needed to give. Here's the situation. I made some mistakes. The legal system is handling it.

Current and future public office philanderers (Sanford, I'm looking at you), take a page from the late night television host. The use of comedy might not be appropriate, but it is important to be yourself (for Dave, that meant using comedy). Don't insult your viewers or your constituents with some prepared (or unprepared) insulting ridiculousness. The truth is going to get out. This is the age of the 24-hour news cycle and Perez Hilton. You can't hide in a bathroom stall...in fact, you probably want to steer clear of those all together.

In particular, please finish it like Dave did: "I need to protect the people involved, I certainly need to protect my family, and I hope to protect my job." Enough said.

Click here if you want to watch the clip of Dave's story.


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