Media Morality

David Letterman
David Letterman (photo:

Last night on “The Late Show,” David Letterman confessed — in an extremely peculiar and awkward way — about having engaged in sexual acts with female employees of his show.

The revelations came in a lengthy account of what Letterman said was a recent attempt to blackmail him for $2 million in connection with these liaisons. His account was interspersed with jokes, at which the audience laughed. The audience also laughed at times where it appeared Letterman wasn’t joking at all.

Even when Letterman finally got around to divulging the specific content of the blackmail attempt, and acknowledged that he had indeed engaged in sexual activity with female “Late Show” employees, the audience laughed and applauded at length. Letterman did not seem particularly embarrassed by the laughter and applause, nor did he give much indication that he believed his actions were seriously wrong, beyond referring to them as “creepy.”

In the wake of last night’s show, it was widely reported today that Robert Halderman, 51, a producer for CBS News’ “48 Hours,” was arrested Thursday in connection with the alleged blackmail attempt against Letterman.

The entire “Late Show” segment was uncomfortable viewing. But it was also instructive in highlighting the gulf in values that separates many influential people in the entertainment media from average Americans. It should be noted that Letterman has been in a long-term relationship for more than 20 years with Regina Lasko. The couple, who have a 6-year-old son, were married in March of this year.

Letterman did not specify whether any of the sexual acts with female employees of his show occurred after his marriage, so it remains unclear if his sexual misconduct included adultery. Even if it didn’t, Letterman’s evident lack of contrition over his conduct remains surprising.

The same gulf between media morals and those of Americans as a whole has been evident in the controversy over the arrest in Switzerland of director Roman Polanski, in connection with Polanski’s 1977 conviction in California for engaging in sexual acts with a 13-year-old girl.

While many in Hollywood have expressed outrage over Polanski’s arrest, this sentiment has not been widely shared among other Americans. And as this CNN article notes, even some people in the entertainment industry have expressed discomfort over this deep disconnect between Hollywood’s take on Polanski and that of most other people.

The CNN article also includes comments by Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, the former editor of America magazine, who wrote an article for The Washington Post about the reaction to Polanski’s arrest. The article, titled Father Polanski Would Go to Jail, spotlights the double standard in the media reaction to Polanski’s transgressions.

“I think that perhaps there is a sense of entitlement that comes with being a celebrity and a star and part of that whole industry where people are always fawning over them and idolizing them,” Father Reese told CNN. “ I think that kind of goes to your head and makes you think that you are special and above the law. The clergy used to think that at one time, inaccurately, and it’s just not a healthy attitude.”