Monday, April 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

NY tabloids finish the job for extortionist

NY tabloids finish the job for extortionist

 

Wasn't it this time last week when I said I'd never intended to blog about Roman Polanski, but...? Well, here we are with a new week and I can tell you that I never intended to blog about David Letterman and his problems, but...

OK, here's what I really, really don't get. A man was arrested in New York last week and charged with a very serious crime. The crime was this: He tried to blackmail a celebrity, David Letterman, by demanding that he pay $2 million immediately or he would go public with very detailed, damning information about Letterman's sex life. Police were called in, set up a sting, and today that man has been indicted on a charge of attempted grand larceny, facing up to 15 years in prison.

So as a result of some good police work and the arrest of alleged blackmailer Robert Halderman, the news media, and especially the New York tabloids, are now....going public with very detailed, damning information about David Letterman's sex life.

That's right, the media is finishing the job that an extortionist started.

For free!

I don't know what Halderman allegedly had in those files or videotapes, but the information that the tabloids have been putting out there -- much of it not contained in the public records of the criminal case, but the result of their hyperventilating, over-staffed team coverage -- is already enough to forever damage Letterman's reputation, with drooling reports about a Letterman "love nest" above the Ed Sullivan Theatre, interviews with other ex-staffers who said they slept with the CBS "Late Show" host, winks and nods about his blonde interns from BYU, interviews with Halderman's lawyer claiming that Dave is some kind of sleazeball. (Sorry, no links -- you're going to have to find them on your own. Also, I should not here that I'm not writing this because I'm a big Letterman fan; I've never even been a regular watcher of his show.)

But I'm confused -- who is the victim here and who is the criminal?

All this because a highly successful, highly paid, charismatic and funny man who -- and I cannot emphasize this enough -- was NOT EVEN MARRIED, had sex with consenting, adult women -- yes, in his workplace. Yes, he did get married just this March to his longtime (main?) girlfriend, Regina Lasko, who is also the mother of their 6-year-old child. That being the case, he probably has a lot of explaining to do on the homefront. But that's something for David Letterman and Regina Lasko -- the reason they call it a private life.

I'm starting to see all the usual justifications that we've gotten used to seeing when the media goes bonkers over a politician's sex life. Isn't it hypocritical for Letterman to make jokes about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky when he himself was having sex with young staffers? Sure, a tad -- but how important is that? I care when an elected official is hypocritical in his public actions, like when a "family values" politician who votes to impose his morality on others is in fact a serial adulterer. But "comedian hypocrisy"? Who knew this was a front-page issue in the midst of the Great Recession and two wars?

I don't want to sound like I'm cavalier about the issue that's been raised of sexual harassment in the workplace. I do think it's a very serious problem, and that's why most clear-headed people generally agree that it's a really bad idea for a superior to have sex with an office underling, even when both are unmarried consenting adults. But given Letterman's deep pockets and the nature of the entertainment business, I think if he was guilty of serious sexual harassment there's a pretty good chance he would have been sued at some point. Even now, with the media knives out, none of the women who've been tracked down have accused him of harassment. Yes, the majority of his executive producers have been women. Uh, that's bad?

Still, readers are subjected to pieces of garbage like this awful column by the generally unreadable columnist Andrea Peyser of the New York Post (which I am linking, against my better judgment, so that the awesome awfulness of it can be fully appreciated) urging that this "depraved" man who, um, was an unmarried celebrity having sex with younger consenting adults (the depravity!) be fired immediately by CBS. You can sense that even Peyser realizes her way-over-the-top column is intellectually dishonest since she makes sure she describes Letterman as "married" high up in the piece, even though his wedding was long after these depraved sex crimes or whatever Peyser is alleging  they were took place.

By his own admission, the married Letterman has bedded any number of women working under His Highness. Problem is, he doesn't seem to know precisely how many. And brass has long looked the other way.

Letterman's dream life came crashing to earth when an ex-boyfriend of one of his conquests allegedly attempted to extort him for $2 million to keep the affairs quiet. This development certainly makes Dave a victim -- a victim of his own recklessness.
 
OK, well, maybe the Manhattan DA's office made a mistake and arrested the wrong guy, or maybe they've should have gone the Cokie Roberts route and just shot him. If you read the column it's clear that Peyser -- a sometimes guest on Fox News Channel with a conservative bent -- doesn't like Letterman's politics, and it's not hard to imagine this is what is driving some, if not a lot, of this venom.

In recent years, Dave's comedic chops have taken on a mean streak, as well. He has shown a wicked hatred of Republicans, which reached a climax when he joked about Sarah Palin's 14-year-old daughter, Willow, getting "knocked up" in the seventh inning of a Yankee game by Alex Rodriguez.

CBS brass could have taken that gag as a sign that Letterman was slipping. Instead, bosses chose to ignore it.

He actually apologized on the air twice for the Willow Palin joke, so I don't think that's ignoring it -- more intellectual dishonesty there. But what makes me think that Peyser's passion is more about politics -- and maybe also successfully getting a link from Matt Drudge, which she did -- than anything else? Unfortunately, old New York Post clips are hard to dredge up even in the Google era, but it's clear from quotes in columns written in 2000 by Frank Rich and Slate's William Saletan that she actually praised then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, for admitting his infidelity, despite widespread reports that the mayor's adulterous affair with Judy Nathan was preceded by one with...a young member of his staff.

This is what Republican Betsy McCaughey told CNN about Peyser's pro-cheater-Giuliani writings on May 12, 2000 (via Nexis):

For example, Andrea Peyser from "The New York Post" in kind of typical yenta talk has said that Rudy's adultery proves that there's a heart beating under that bulletproof vest. So I wouldn't say that in fact he's been more subject to criticism because of his behavior. Many of his Republican allies have tried to put a very humanizing spin on this conduct.

Huh? No screetching columns about how "Depraved Rudy" must quit? Remember a few years ago...all the decrying of "the politics of personal destruction," of how private matters were so skillfully used to bring down public officials who couldn't be taken down by elections. Now we've taken that "technology" and are applying it to show business -- that's American progress for you. Even if it means that newspapers have to do the dirty work that an extortionist couldn't finish.

I don't know where all this is headed -- with so many journalists assigned to this story (just imagine if the insurance industry got this kind of scrutiny!). they may reveal something that will change my opinion about David Letterman and the significance of this story. But I can tell you this -- the next time a rich entertainment celebrity is blackmailed, he is not going to the police -- no way. He is going to pay up, regardless of price.

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