Letterman’s Confession and Apologies

On the Today show Monday morning, the attorney representing alleged extortionist David Halderman echoed a thought I had after reading about David Letterman’s confessed sexual trysts with staff members on his show. The attorney said Letterman’s version of events could not be entirely trusted because the man is a professional manipulator. Letterman had framed the discussion masterfully, even introducing the topic by playfully asking his unsuspecting audience if they’d like to hear a “little story.” That phrasing was repeated last night when he publicly apologized to his staff, not for conduct unbecoming their helmsman, but for subjecting them to the “brow beating” media.

Letterman also apologized to his wife and said it would take no small effort on his part to repair their relationship, which was apparently not an “open” 23 year union, at least not in her mind. Given that Letterman was in such a relationship, the behavior of his personal assistant is inexcusable. Women with character reject the advances of attached men, even if doing so jeopardizes their jobs. Stephanie Birkkit, the female at the center of this plot/love triangle, sounds suspiciously like a woman with little of that. Not only was she engaged in relationships with superiors at two different jobs, but she was taking notes.

I’d venture to say that most women have been the recipients of sexual advances in the work place. It’s a disheartening experience to think one is valued for one’s skills, only to find out that the boss is interested in something more. Because I am married (and have been since I was 21), I’ve long followed Billy Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto” regarding relationships with non-family members of the opposite sex. Don’t be alone with them. Not in an office, a car, at home. It sounds puritanical, but it’s much easier to say “I have a policy” than it is to say “I don’t trust you.” As I’ve gotten older and less nubile, my parameters have loosened a bit. Even so, unwanted advances and temptations have only lessened with age; they haven’t ceased altogether.

In his original account, Letterman joked, “I’m motivated by nothing but guilt. If you know anything about me, I am just a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt.” But it wasn’t guilt or concern for others that precipitated his confession. It was alleged blackmail and the desire to protect both his reputation and his job.

Last night he said, “I wasn’t gonna’ talk about it anymore, but it seems like people wanna’ talk about it. When you’re blackmailed, it’s a crime and you’re a victim. … It’s a nasty thing to do to people.”

MSNBC.com reports that “Letterman technically is an employee of his Worldwide Pants production company, but CBS has a clear policy on the situation, and CBS suppliers are supposed to follow the broadcaster’s policies.” The 2008 CBS Business Conduct Statement says this: “If a consenting romantic or sexual relationship between a supervisor and a direct or indirect subordinate should develop, CBS requires the supervisor to disclose this information to his or her company’s Human Resources Department to ensure that there are no issues of actual or apparent favoritism, conflict of interest, sexual harassment, or any other negative impact on others in the work environment.”

Letterman said that crime victims have to push back and do the right thing. Let’s hope then that if any of his female staffers have been victimized by him, they take his advice and report him.