Okay, Is It Sexual Harassment When Letterman Does His Women Staffers?

 David Letterman and Stephanie Birkitt--just friends.  Really (Courtesy: HuffPo)

David Letterman and Stephanie Birkitt--just friends. Really (Courtesy: HuffPo)

To answer the question, yes. Check this out.

It was one of those nights I went over to the Peacock Network to watch Michael Moore on Conan. In doing so, I sure missed a big one.

Late-night host David Letterman acknowledged on Thursday’s show that he had sexual relationships with female employees and that someone tried to extort $2 million from him over the affairs. CBS says an employee has been charged with attempted grand larceny in the case.

Letterman told his story during a taping of his show, mixing in jokes to an audience that seemed confused about what it was. He called it a “bizarre experience” that left him feeling disturbed and menaced.

In a release from the show’s production company, Letterman said he referred the matter to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. An investigation ended in an arrest Thursday after Letterman issued a phony $2 million check to keep the matter silent.

Apparently Letterman’s liaisons with women staffers have been going on since his show began on CBS in 1993. They may have indeed ended when former “Late Show” writer Regina Lasko became his wife in March, after producing Letterman’s son, Harry, who is the pride of his life.

The target of the blackmail wasn’t just Letterman; it was his former jumpoff girlfriend who had just broken up with the perp. As usual, TMZ is on the case:

Stephanie Birkitt has been identified as one of the women involved in the David Letterman extortion plot.

Birkitt, Letterman’s former assistant who has made several appearances on the “Late Show,” lived with alleged blackmailer Robert “Joe” Halderman, who allegedly “was in possession of Birkitt’s diary, correspondence and photos — which he says incriminated Letterman,” according to TMZ.

Sources tell TMZ that Letterman and Birkitt had a sexual relationship that ended before 2003, when his son Harry was born.

Sources tell RadarOnline.com that “Birkitt and Letterman slept together for a period of time before he married his girlfriend Regina and had their son Harry” and that Birkitt is reportedly “mortified Halderman is using her fling with Letterman to blackmail her boss.”

Apparently Halderman’s exorbitant child payments played a role in his decision to blackmail Letterman.

It’s always an unequal relationship when you have sex with the boss, though. The thing I’m wondering is, were the other women injured or compromised by Letterman? And if a woman–however gently–refused him, did he make her life miserable in order to get rid of her?

Natalie Holder-Winfield, an employment attorney who blogs on HuffPo, had this to say:

I can tell you which department at CBS will probably be working this weekend–the legal department. I will bet that this morning the Viacom/CBS legal department is running around feverishly trying to create some semblance of damage control. Do they have a situation of quid pro quo sexual harassment on their hands where staffers felt that if they did for Mr. Letterman, Mr. Letterman would do for them? Even worse, was there a culture where any producer, executive or any person with some clout pressured staffers to feel that the only way to get ahead–or keep their jobs–was to sleep their way to the top? Or, were the affairs consensual? If CBS is smart, they will conduct a full-scale investigation where everyone will be asked about what happened. Oh, the folks at CBS have some explaining to do.

And if any of those relationships were not consenting, or that women were pestered to give it up to Letterman or any of the other male senior people involved in that “family,” in order to get ahead, it’s going to look infinitely worse. Letterman had better pray that this bomb doesn’t go off in his face, but no sexual harassment suits have ever been filed against him.

It could be that other women in his office who didn’t get ahead as fast as some others could also file suits.

Letterman’s relationships seem to have been pretty liquid after he divorced his first wife in 1977. Merrill Markoe, now 61, Letterman’s first head writer on Late Night, and who won five Emmys for creating such gems as “Stupid Pet Tricks,” was his girlfriend until 1988 (Lasko came into the picture around 1986), says Wikipedia. Markoe has several books and lots of articles to her credit; she sometimes acts and is still in broadcasting, although Late Night so far remains her zenith. Markoe did criticize Letterman’s sexism, and his seeming inability to credit her contributions in a couple of articles after she broke up with him and left the show. But twenty years ago isn’t now.

(In hindsight, one truly has to wonder whether there was any hair-pulling between Lasko and Markoe before Markoe left Letterman. They were writers working at the same time and for the same man. It has to be asked.)

Letterman, 62, is a bit of a lech on the show with some of his women guests, but he’s more like Groucho Marx was in You Bet Your Life, without the snappy between-the-lines dirty jokes. Sometimes it rankled me, but lately, the lechery has been more along the lines of Oh boy, I wish I wish I wish, but I’m married now.

We don’t even know how many of these women were involved. They’ve been as quiet as kept. They’ve moved on to other relationships, marriages, and possibly even better jobs, roles or careers. Somehow he feels that responsibility to protect their lives. Now he does?

But that’s a decision for them to make — if they want to come public and talk about the relationship. If I want to go public and talk about the relationships. But what you don’t want is a guy saying,” and Letterman imitates the man with a whiny tone of voice “‘I know you had sex with women so I would like $2 million or I will make trouble for you.'”

Well, there is now the glib Holly Hester who outted herself as one of Letterman’s ex-interns and former lovers to get her fifteen minutes on Saturday. An NYU alumna, Hester told TMZ.com that “I was madly in love with him at the time. I would have married him. He was hilarious.”

Extortion. Blackmail. Jealousy. Employees of The Tiffany Network using Mafia tactics. William Paley must be spinning in his grave.

Holder-Winfield concludes:

During these moments of apologies and admissions, these men somehow attempt to get the public to forget the arrogance that brought them to point that they had to apologize. It is arrogant to cheat on your wife and think that you are above getting caught. It is arrogance that drives a man to flirt with and eventually have sex with his employee. And yes, it is arrogance that makes a man ignore the embarrassment that his children will endure due to his sexual indiscretions.

Stephanie Birkitt said that Letterman was the best boss she ever had in several interviews: “Aside from being incredibly funny and personable he is generous, kind, and is great fun to play catch with. I really couldn’t ask for a more fun work environment. Dave is truly the greatest boss I could ever have.” A 1997 graduate of Wake Forest University, Birkitt, 34, worked as a page for CBS News, 48 Hours, and The Late Show, eventually becoming an associate producer on the news side. However, acknowledging her limitations, she decided to take a job as Letterman’s girl Friday. She assists with his American Foundation for Charities and Grooming, and his Indy car racing team, Rahal Letterman Racing. She’s also graduated to occasional appearances on the show as characters “Vickie,” “Smitty,” “Kitty,” “Monty,” “Gunter,” and “Dutch.” She may have completed law school in addition to her job with The Late Show.

For Birkitt, at least, it may have been consenting. Except for the fact of Halderman’s stealing her diary and photographs for his extortion plot, the long-ago affair would have never surfaced. Who knows what will happen to her now? If she’s summarily let go, it will look as though she is being punished for having treasured remembrances in her possession that made David Letterman look bad. At the very least, she should simply be allowed to do her job until she decides to move on, and not appear as one of his characters on the show. Then again, is there life and a career for her after this scandal?

Why do male celebrities like Letterman, as Olympia Dukakis said in Moonstruck, sh*t where they eat? Possibly for comfortable sex, to feel in control with a new face that he doesn’t know, to work off stress, to feel young, to combat insecurity, to feel good, and because he wants to feel bad. And even because he likes a particular woman; Birkitt seemed to fit a kind of woman to which he was already drawn. It was all about him, really. It was a narcissistic pursuit. I don’t like that–though he was in a long-term (23 years) relationship during all this time–he felt that he could still do his thing. That kind of men’s misbehavior never looks good, unless you’re a publicist for Hepburn and Tracy.

If anything, I feel sorry for two people other than Stephanie Birkitt: Regina and his mother, Dorothy Letterman Mengering. Regina, because she may be wondering how long the creeping was going on, especially while she was pregnant, and whether it has truly concluded; mom, because he should know better by this time. Little Harry is young enough to be shielded from some of these shenanigans, but eventually, he’s going to know about his father’s shortcomings. Letterman may be sleeping alone for a while with the rolling pin will be very much in evidence at home. But don’t look for Regina Letterman to go Elizabeth Edwards regarding her husband. Even he is reluctant to talk about her, even on his show. They’re very, very private people.

So how should people see Letterman after this? Well, he certainly isn’t a politician. But his longevity on CBS is dependent on his popularity. (His renegotiated contract has him leaving in 2012.) I will give him credit that unlike a lot of politicians, he came clean with his “constituency” in order to have no sword above his head. And because he let it all hang out, his popularity will soar. I’m sure he’s going to make the same kinds of self-deprecating, but rooted-in-reality jokes he’s done when he’s made big gaffes. He will apologize, and mean it, and then he will move on to the next big gaffe.

~ by blksista on October 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “Okay, Is It Sexual Harassment When Letterman Does His Women Staffers?”

  1. You can impute whatever motivations you wish as to Letterman having sex with staffers. But it simply comes down to propinquity or the principle of propinquity which means that people you are geogrpahically close to are the ones you are most likely to have sexual affairs with. Such is particularly the case when ones workplace is all consuming- Letterman had a five day a week show, and intensive interactions with staffers. Enough said!

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    • Letterman’s sexual partners were among the interns as well as the writers. From what I have read today, he would call a woman at home and ask her out to go to the movies or something. More often than not, they were young, but not underage. Naturally, they were dazzled by “the great man.” He had multiple affairs going.

      If he had a long-term girlfriend, then he didn’t have to have other intimate relationships going. The guy just wanted to dip from the trough, not once but several times. The law of averages caught up with him.

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