I love David Letterman. I'm not even going to pretend to be impartial. I could give you a "Top Ten List' of my favorite Letterman moments from "Late Night," and give you another one just for the "Late Show." I can tell you all about his morning show, his time as a weatherman (and why he got fired: for forecasting hail the size of "canned hams") and even about his time as Leno's stand-up compatriot. So make no mistakes, folks, I know my shit.
So of course I'm going to weigh in on Dave's current personal problems. I've always been much more fascinated by Letterman the man than Letterman the comic. A humor heavyweight he certainly is, and one who is a true iconoclast, though his insecurity and self-doubt would cause him to chide anyone who told him so, but Dave is a fascinating character.
He's also, apparently, a philanderer.
But I don't want to talk about that. Frankly, it's none of my business. I do love Dave, but I'm not in love with Dave. He's not my boyfriend or my husband and he doesn't owe me an apology (though apparently he made one to his wife, and subsequently all of us). Don McLeese once told me to trust the art and not the artist. He's right.
But I want to talk about sex.
On a lot of the feminist blogs, ones I read because I consider myself a soldier in the Feminist Corps, one question is being raised: Did David Letterman, in having his affairs, practice sexual harassment?
Yeah, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that too.
What happened between Letterman and the women in his workplace? Is he, as he put it, a practitioner of "creepy?" In the interest of full disclosure, I've always found David Letterman hopelessly attractive. There's something about a charming and witty curmudgeon that women with low self-esteem can't bypass, at least says this glutton for punishment. There's something irresistible about iconoclasts.
So did Letterman pull rank by imposing his winking wit on young female staffers? Or is he just a flirtatious guy at the center of some office scuttlebutt? I DON'T KNOW. And that seems to be the one phrase no one wants to say. So many people are so sure that people in power positions should never engage in workplace relationships, because of the inherent harassment involved. There's definitely truth to that.
If I worked for David Letterman and he flirted with me, put me on TV and offered to pay my law school tuition , I'd probably feel obligated and would certainly be more likely to date him. But you know what? If I worked for David Letterman and he told me I was bad at my job, didn't laugh at my jokes, or ignored me, I'd probably still want to date him. I'm weak. But more importantly, I find him attractive, even if there are things about him I don't find attractive. Likewise, people are often attracted to people for reasons having nothing to do with logic and those reasons often violate rules (perhaps you lust for someone who is married, or someone you're friends with, or maybe you have a crush on a Libertarian, something truly verboten like that).
I think a lot of women find David Letterman sexy, and Letterman has somewhat of a lecherous past himself. But do I think he harassed these women by sleeping with them? No. Do I think he abused his power? No. If he did, the act wasn't any more abusive than when he began relationships with his wife Regina Lasko (a former "Late Night" employee when Letterman was the show's host) or longtime girlfriend Merrill Markoe, who served as head writer for "Late Night" and producer for Letterman's failed morning show (though Markoe and Letterman began dating before he hired her).
David Letterman is always going to be David Letterman. Whether or not women work for him, almost all of them will see him as host of the "Late Show." Celebrity is influence, so any relationship with a non-celebrity or a poor person, or a less-popular person could be termed technical "harassment." I'm not dismissing the balance of power. I'm also not excluding the possibility that Dave acted inappropriately. But to state decisively, as one blog did, that Letterman's affairs were an abuse of power, imply omniscience and also betray truth. Yes, office relationships between supervisors and subordinates create disparity and discomfort for those in the workplace, even in the best of circumstances (i.e. consensual affairs) but to say that Letterman was wholly out of bounds suggests that in almost no circumstance could he ever have guilt free sex. His marriage is out of bounds. It seems, according to this logic, the only person Letterman could fuck and get away with it is Jay Leno (in that case, it'd be more payback than anything else).
It reminds me of something cartoonist Cathy Guisewite said. She was a guest on one of the last episodes of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and told the host he couldn't retire, because he would be dumping his legions of female fans who go to bed with him every night.
Maybe Letterman's transgressions cut closer to a lot of women because they've been harassed in the workplace. Women do have to work harder, we do have to prove we aren't sleeping our ways to the top, and sometimes that means not engaging in consensual relationships with colleagues. And maybe we just don't want to believe Mr. Top Ten List is like every sleazy boss we've had or every witty hornball we've shared cubicle walls with.
I don't know if Letterman's mistresses/girlfriends/employees are victims. Victimhood is largely in the eye of the beholder. But Letterman, let's not forget, is surely a victim. He's undergoing a public vivisection at the hands of an extortionist.
Maybe Dave is just guilty of a stupid human trick: dipping his pen in the company ink. It hardly makes him Clarence Thomas.
-Meryn, who idolizes Merrill Markoe and hopes to one day receive the GE corporate "handshake."