lateshowOn October 1, late-night comedian David Letterman, host of the Late Show with David Letterman, shocked his audience by admitting on-air that he had been the victim of a two-million-dollar extortion plot. Letterman informed his viewers that he had received a package containing proof that he had done “terrible things,” along with a letter threatening to reveal these things in a screenplay and a book unless he paid two million dollars. Letterman went on to disclose the “creepy stuff” that the blackmailer had threatened to reveal–that he has had sex with women who work for him on his show–and to admit that it is, in fact, true.

In the aftermath of these shocking revelations, it has come to light that the alleged extortionist is Robert “Joe” Halderman, the producer of the CBS News true-crime show 48 Hours. Halderman has been charged with one count of attempted grand larceny and faces up to fifteen years in prison if convicted. It is believed that Halderman’s “proof” of Letterman’s affairs includes the diary and personal papers of Halderman’s girlfriend, Stephanie Burkitt, one of the women alleged to have had an affair with Letterman.

The fallout from the revelation of Letterman’s affairs remains uncertain. Several days after revealing the extortion plot, Letterman apologized on-air to his wife, Regina Laska, whom he said has been “horribly hurt” by his behavior. A subsequent study of Letterman’s viewers revealed that the majority found his apology sincere. The study also found that 23 percent of viewers have a more positive perception of Letterman since the scandal and 55 percent of viewers have had no change in perception, while only 22 percent reported a more negative perception. Furthermore, the Late Show has seen a spike in ratings since the scandal broke. Several commentators have pointed out that, unlike politicians or religious figures, people don’t view Letterman as a “moral barometer for anything.” From this perspective, it seems that the negative fallout for Letterman will be minimal.

However, commentators on the other end of the spectrum have found Letterman’s conduct highly offensive and have even called for CBS to fire him. These calls are partially grounded in the fact that the affairs occurred in the workplace context and may have violated CBS policy (although CBS denies that Letterman has committed any such violation). However, some concern has been expressed that the impropriety may be deeper than mere workplace affairs and may rise to the level of sexual harrassment. It has been noted that in cases of workplace romances between supervisors and subordinates, the supervisor puts the subordinate in an awkward position in which the subordinate may feel unduly pressured. In fact, in 2004, Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly settled a sexual harrassment lawsuit by an employee who claimed she did not feel she could say no to her boss’s advances due to his position of power.

It seems somewhat strange that, in a time when society is fairly accustomed to revelations of extra-marital affairs by public figures, Halderman would have thought he could blackmail Letterman solely with the information that Letterman had sexual relationships with women who work on his show. This is particularly true given that Letterman is a comedian as opposed to a political or moral leader and that his affairs are alleged to have occurred prior to his marriage and the 2003 birth of his son (with now-wife, Lasko). Halderman’s attorney has insisted that there is more to the case than meets the eye and has stated that he looks forward to cross-examining Letterman. Indeed, allegations have already surfaced that Letterman may have paid for one of the employees in question, Burkitt, to attend law school. While this may not necessarily be illegal, it at least smacks of impropriety.

Only time will tell the true extent of Letterman’s conduct. If the situation did not extend past innocuous workplace romances, it seems likely that the scandal will blow over quickly and be dealt with, as it should be, between Letterman and his family. However, if Letterman did engage in inappropriate conduct rising to the level of sexual harrassment, the whole affair may be far from over.

Tori Langton

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20 Responses to Ripples of the David Letterman Extortion Scandal

  1. Eleanor says:

    Re Letterman affair. What’s the fuss. It seems that unless any of the women involved were coerced or harrassed into having a sexual affair, why not let this affair go. Obviously none of the women involved wanted to pursue any case against Letterman, other than the blackmail attempt by a rejected suitor. Dave has apologized to almost the whole world, and in particular to his wife, who is the only one who matters at this point. The NOW group needs to let it die the natural death this whole matter deserves.

  2. Trevor Ragan says:

    Why has the media become so preoccupied with the faling of men. We are completely exploited in the media portrayed as ignorant, stupid,and incompotent. Be it TV, advertising, literature, or entertainment men are constantly demeaned. Any time soneone like David Letterman makes a mistake (one I am sure many female bosses make, but we never hear of)people are calling for his resignation before he’s even been charged with anything. Maybe he’s guilty and should be fired or charged, but when did we start sacrificing fairness and the real pursuit of justice upon the alter of marginalizing the male gender. Gender equality is lie pertpetuated by one gender: females.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m a woman, raised by both parents, father and mother. My parents taguht my sister and I to respect ourselves and others deserving of respect. Fairness deserves respect, integrity deserves respect, innocence deserves respect. Greed, no self respect, and no intergrity is a disasterious recipe for humans, but could be fatal for women. It’s becoming more prominent in women to possess the latter qualities above, and for this reason I no longer empathize with or support some of these women organizations that want to bash men for an act performed by two consenting adults. I say STOP shifting all the blame on these Men and Start holding women accountable for their own Action! There’s no difference between a street walker and an office opportunist.

  4. anonymous says:

    Does anyone remember another old guy that had creepy sex with his staff…his name was Bob Barker!
    More details came out then enough to turn your stomach, but “he was the man!”

    Dave and whoever were both single at the time and adult, we’ve heard enough, let him try to get on with his married life, if she will forgive him, its between them.

    This stuff happens all the time, lets go on with something newsworthy.

  5. carl says:

    Wow! I haven’t heard much from NOW for quite some time….I believe it was the last time they took a strong position on a very visible issue before they knew the facts as well. Some things don’t change.

  6. Ms Tonja says:

    Oh boy, and here come NOW trying to place their 5 cents on the subject. If those women were in a hostile work environment they would have been the first to do something about it. They would have sued David for everything he had. Don’t be so quick to jump on a band wagon for recognition. Those women wanted David just as bad as David wants laughs from an audience. This is not the 1940′s. Women have enough voice in this country thanks to the women that did take a stand in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. They know enough to go to the EEOC when they are being mistreated. These women never uttered a sound about their improprieties, because they didn’t want to be exposed themselves. So, the cats are being let out of the bag. And the evil that was being done in the dark is now coming to the light. Without the help of NOW!

  7. Gavin W, says:

    Workplace romances happen all the time. BIG deal. Letterman was dating and not married and just because he is in a position of power does not mean he abused it.
    People in entertainment work long hours and spend a lot of time together. To think that these things aren’t going to happen is absurd.
    Naturally NOW is weighing in on this. Guess they need the press.

  8. Christine says:

    I think all the hoopla with Letterman is uncalled for … the media and rest of the world out to hang Letterman need to move on!!!
    If anyone needs to hang its: Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Sanford … all paid by our tax dollars and instead of working on important federal, state and city issues they are all off screwing around with interns, hookers and girlfriends.
    AND if you wish to rank these pigs in order, Mr Edwards would be #1, since he had a wife at home suffering from cancer!!
    Last I recall Mr Letterman is a comedian, you either like his comedy or not – whether CBS or the women take action is their choice not up to the public. The public can turn off his show if they dislike his actions.

  9. major says:

    I said, Fire this moron.
    He proved himself to be a weaketh person.
    Remember his remarks about Palin’s young daughter!!

  10. Robert - Canada says:

    Ok, NOW is lashing out at David Letterman? Last time I checked it takes 2! The women were no innocent bystanders!!

  11. jennifer says:

    I am sorry to keep going on, but there needs to a sense of balance. He did wrong, but only morally wrong, if that can be called “only.” The extortionist committed a felony. The women involved…where is their voice? Not the voice of NOW, but the individual women? I think they committed a wrong, too, by going along, to other women who believed they have the power to speak up and defend for themselves. What ever happened to, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar?” Where is the power we claim, that we can be as tough as a man? Come on….cowboy up!

  12. rivirivi says:

    Well, at least he did not get 5 years in jail and 5,000 slashes. Although he deserves it. Not because he had sex with employees, but because he grossed us out by actually having sex. I thought he was like a monk of some kind.

  13. JM says:

    DL’s best years are FAR BEHIND him….get this stupid old reprobate off TV. The staffers who slept with him must be pretty hard up, or just losers.

  14. Dave says:

    This brings up an interesting point. Since when does it become only David Letterman’s fault? does it not take two to tango? In other words, isn’t the blame equally distributed on both the man and woman involved. I don’t believe anyone was claiming rape so it was probably agreeable between the to involved. Let’s get real here and NOW should back off and get laid themselves and then they would probably settle down too.
    The best advise for anyone is, “NEVER DIP YOUR PEN IN COMPANY INK” unless you want it on the front pages of the New York Times!

  15. Toni says:

    I find it most curious that NOW has decided to step forward against Mr. Letterman. They were deafeningly quiet during the Clinton spectacle but into this they wanted to wade. There has been no indication from any of the women involved that they were coerced or forced or threatened into a relationship with him. They are adult enough to work in the City, live in (or near) the City, eat-drink-and be merry in the City but they aren’t able to handle a workplace romance. Big bad boss MUST have taken advantage. Consensual sex between co-workers is impossible. Let’s get serious.

    And what about Mr. Halderman? Wasn’t he the big, bad boss that took advantage as well? According to reports today he was quite promiscuous with staffers while at CBS. And while he was married. And he bragged to other co-workers about it. But where is NOW on that? Perhaps they feel sorry for him because his wife moved away with his children. Should we ask why they divorced? Or that doesn’t matter.

    What about everyone at NOW? Ready for your lives to be revealed? Maybe it’s not just white men right of the aisle that are hypocrites – in this arena anyway.

    Men and women make questionable (at best!) choices when it comes to romance all the time. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask many members of Congress. Ask the clergymen. Ask your neighbors. Ask your families. Chances are there are answers there that are better not known. Which is where I end up on all these “revelations” – it’s not my business. As long as there are adults involved and it’s consensual, it’s not my business and it shouldn’t be fodder for the press. There are more important things to worry about.

    One more thing – where is NOW when it comes to Roman Polanski? Now there’s a real story and one that needs to be told. And it should be told so we can protect the children. Maybe if we protect them when they’re young, we can teach them self-respect and they’ll make better decisions as adults.

  16. jennifer says:

    corrections; if you were raped or harassed, get our resume in order, go to HR, and leave. If you were seduced, own up to your own weakness, and stop going along with it. Polish your resume in any case, and go to HR AND the top brass!

  17. Char Hinners says:

    I wish the media would stop calling the liaisons Letterman had with the women as “affairs”! That is only in regard to married people and these were obviously consensual and the women were surely old enough to know better!

  18. jennifer says:

    These women could have said no. All they had to do was go to HR to file a complaint, and get their resume in order so they could leave w/o a problem. They could also have files a sexual harassment case against the man themselves. So far, I have only heard “It wasn’t my fault, he had the power! Poor me, I have no power, I am so powerless against any man who hires me, I am only a woman, pity me!” I am a woman, and I get mad when women do this. You are all adults; if you go along with it, you are by definition not being forced. Rape is rape, and power is power. If you were raped or harassed, stop doing it and file a suit. If you were seduced, and you are an adult, then you have the power to stop. Don’t blame anyone else for your lack of self-confidence!

  19. Rick says:

    SO, NOW determines, without true cause or verification of fact, that Letterman created an oppressive workplace. Did any of the women object, reject or report an oppressive relationship? NO? Gee, NOW, what next?

    Did Letterman take advantage of his “power” position in soliciting sex? YES! Did any of the women solicitated agree based on any other criteria? WHO KNOWS? Certaintly not the NOW contingency.

    IS HE SCUM? YES! But the generalization that NOW puts out has no basis in fact, and is just political CRAP!

  20. It is rich that NOW is complaining about how the National Organization of Women is characterizing Letterman’s having sex with subordinates has raised “raised serious issues about the abuse of power leading to an inappropriate, if not hostile, workplace environment for women.”

    I recall that very same organization defending a certain president of the united states for the very same thing — and indeed portrayed him as a victim.

    Ideology comes first.