In Defense Of David Letterman — Sort Of

I’m not a fan of David Letterman, don’t like his politics, and haven’t watched his show in years. Moreover, after his rape joke at the expense of Sarah Palin’s daughter, I can’t say that I was displeased to hear that he was involved in an intern sex and adultery scandal.

There seems to be one of two ways to look at this. Here’s Andrea Peyser in the New York Post:

CBS has got to dump David Letterman. Right now.

If the Tiffany Network continues to coddle the crotchety king of late night, it will rightly be known as the destination of choice for any girl who jiggles, giggles and puts out repeatedly for a man old enough to be her father.

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Dave must go. If not, CBS will have lost any remaining shred of credibility, not to mention common decency.

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.

The very livelihoods of the young women who caught Dave’s fancy depend on making Letterman happy. But Letterman, 62, certainly knew what he was doing.

On the other hand, here’s the execrable Tom Shales defending David Letterman:

Some of those who’ve seen the current Letterman mess as a golden opportunity to trash and attack him claim that it’s fit retribution for the jokes Dave has made about naughty-boy politicians and their sexual high jinks. Letterman can continue to lampoon sleazy political figures with no real fear of hypocrisy, however, because a TV comic is not an elected official responsible for the well-being of the nation or its citizenry.

Letterman’s monologue is not a nightly sermon full of moral lessons preached to politicians or the public. His stance is that of the proverbial court jester, a clownish figure with a mandate to prick the powerful — not set himself up as a model of virtue.

Could Letterman’s misbehavior be compared to the disreputable legislator who ranted and railed against homosexuals, and worked to deny them the right to marry and other civil privileges — and then was caught soliciting anonymous sex in an airport men’s room? That’s socially destructive misconduct with the potential for inflicting harm, pain and injustice on a portion of society and on society at large. Letterman’s misadventures contain potential harm, pain and injustice only for the individuals specifically involved — and since there have been no allegations about the sex having been nonconsensual or any partners having been underage, it’s all unpleasant but hardly some sort of threat to the public welfare.

I hate to say this because I’d love to howl for Letterman’s scalp, but I think Shales is closer to the truth than Peyser.

David Letterman is not a politician, pastor, or school teacher. There’s simply no expectation of high moral standards from a man who hosts a late night television show.

Granted, if it turns out David Letterman sexually harassed any of these women — and I mean really sexually harassed them by putting them in a “Put out or get fired” situation — then he should be fired. It doesn’t matter what job you’re doing; that just crosses too many lines.

That doesn’t mean adultery isn’t wrong — it is. But, most of the people reading this post know someone who has committed adultery — probably several. How many of them have been fired from if it became public? Heck, if adultery were a firing offense for any job, we’d double the unemployment rate overnight. Again, that’s not excusing it, but I just don’t think it should cost someone a job in most cases. If David Letterman’s audience disagrees with that assertion, they’ll stop watching his show, his ratings will tank, and that will be that.

PS: As to Shale’s comments about Larry Craig — what Craig did was wrong and he should have resigned. However, while the hypocrisy was wrong, the big problem was not the hypocrisy, it was Craig’s actions. As bad as being a hypocrite is, it’s far worse to support immoral positions because you would hate to be called a hypocrite if your own behavior came to light. Everybody is a hypocrite sometimes, but not everyone advocates bad behavior in the first place. It’s better to be a hypocrite than a hedonist.

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