Monday, October 5, 2009

The Scarlet Letterman

By Mitchell Hadley

One has to admit a certain satisfaction in seeing David Letterman, whose nasty, smirking brand of “humor” mocked people for the better part of three decades, get caught in one of his own Stupid Human Tricks. Heaven forbid what he might have had to say if one of his favorite targets – Sarah Palin, say, or Bill O’Reilly – had been caught pursuing the same kind of hanky-panky.

After hearing the story come out on Friday, Judie turned to me and asked what the big deal was. With all the water that’s passed under the dam over the years, it’s hard to imagine many people getting worked up over all this. She’s probably right, although there are some intriguing angles still to be pursued, such as the question feminists (and human resources departments) love to pose, namely whether there can ever be truly consensual sex in an employer-employee relationship. Then too, there’s the question as to whether Letterman and his abrasive personality have offended the wrong people at some point in time, weakening the good will coming from his years of service at CBS.

The viewers are sure to have something to say in all this. Letterman was always seen as being far more cutting edge than “Vanilla Jay” Leno, but his is an aging hipsterism now that has become painful to watch (when one can even watch it), and on that front he faces challenges not only from Conan O’Brian but from his own network running mate, Craig Ferguson (who would probably be having a field day with this were he not an employee of Letterman’s production company). Letterman, like Woody Allen before him, may come out of all this looking like a lecherous, dirty old man.

As a matter of personal curiosity, I’m intrigued by the point Letterman’s camp repeatedly stresses, that he was not married at the time these dangerous liaisons took place. This might be a more powerful point in Letterman’s favor were it not for the fact that he was still involved in a long-term, presumably committed relationship with the woman who bore him a child and whom he later married. Does it make a difference whether the woman on whom you’re cheating is your wife or simply your longtime companion and the mother of your son? I wouldn’t think so, but then I’ve been accused in the past of being hopelessly old-fashioned, so I don’t know. I guess when the spark goes out, it doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not.

Look, nobody wants to pile on someone who’s obviously been hurt by what has happened, and who may well be aware of the number of people he himself has hurt through his actions. But eventually everyone has to pay the piper, and for David Letterman, the man who’s made a career out of laughing at the misfortune of others, the piper soon may be playing his tune. Right now my money would be on him hanging on, but not without scars. He’s in his 60s, and there’s been speculation he would step down when his contract expires. That decision may now be out of his hands, as this little contretemps would certainly make it easier for CBS to decide to ease him out, citing budget concerns or something equally innocuous while casting their eye on someone like Jimmy Kimmel.

But all is not lost, Dave. After all, you’ve been doing an excellent job as a paid apologist for the Obama administration, so if things really go south, I’m sure your friend in Washington can find a place for you. Just watch out for those interns in the White House – word has it getting involved with them can get kind of messy.

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