The tragedy of Maureen Dowd is that underneath that veneer of "prettiest girl in high school" that she usually affects, which makes her seem far too often like the Norma Desmond of op-ed columnists, there's actually a smart, incisive social commentator in there.
I haven't commented on the whole David Letterman foofarah, because there's a certain "man bites dog" quality to the whole thing: rich, powerful, famous man beds younger women who work for him. This is news?
Why isn't this story about Joe Halderman, the 48 Hours
producer who blackmailed Letterman? Why is extortion given a free pass? Why is having sex regarded as the real crime here?
I read somewhere once, and it's always stuck with me, that David Letterman gives the impression of someone who doesn't exist outside of his TV show. For all that he used to have his mother on the show fairly often, there was always a Max Headroom
quality to Letterman. And perhaps that's why there's this obsession now with his sex life -- it's like finding out that your parents have sex; except that instead of responding with "Ew!", the press leans in and says "Tell me more..."
To say that a famous person's sex life is none of my business is not to excuse or condone it. But there's a certain "goes with the territory" aspect to the parade of Men Behaving Badly, whether it's Wade Boggs taking his mistress on the road with the Red Sox, or A-Rod "reading Kaballah" with Madonna, or, well, David Letterman fucking his staffers. I would say that the vapors being had over men like Mark Sanford and John Ensign are preposterous too, were it not for these men setting themselves up as the moral arbiters of the sexual behavior (and consequences of that behavior) of others while demanding a free pass for himself. Men like John Edwards and Newt Gingrich are in a class by themselves for the sheer scumminess of cheating on a cancer-stricken wife. But for the rest? Yeah, it sucks to be the wife, but unfortunately, the world is and always has been full of groupies of both sexes.
But today MoDo is right that equating consensual sex between two adults with drugging and raping every orifice of a thirteen-year-old
says something extremely creepy about our attitude towards women; far more creepy than anything David Letterman did:
After David Letterman acknowledged that he’d had flings with young assistants, some commentators talked about it in the same breath as Roman Polanski, who drugged and sodomized a 13-year-old. That’s outrageous.
Sexual harassment entails pressuring or penalizing a staffer or making the office atmosphere hostile. Despite the blustering of the attorney of the alleged execrable extortionist, Joe Halderman, there’s no evidence yet that Letterman was guilty of that.
Working for a boss as anti-social and self-critical as Letterman, whose world is circumscribed by his show, would not be easy. (The man is obviously not joking when he goes off on his self-loathing shticks; otherwise, he would have dated some of those gorgeous actresses flirting with him on air over the decades.)
But we haven’t heard that the curmudgeonly comedian, who has never lost his streak of Midwest primness, forced any staffers to listen to tales of pubic hairs on Cokes or Long Dong Silver.
From what we know so far, and that may not be everything, the women who got involved with Letterman were not pressured. One former intern, Holly Hester, said she had wanted to marry him but that he broke it off because of their age disparity.
Stephanie Birkitt, his former lover and assistant, described herself as his best friend. She was not punished but rewarded with a recurring on-air starring role — despite the fact that she wasn’t funny or charming. As usual, Letterman was living out loud on the show, showing the audience his crush. His company footed the tab for Birkitt to go to law school, a loan she has now paid back; it says it did the same for some other staffers who wanted to pursue higher education.
On Monday night, when Letterman joked that he might be the first talk-show host to be impeached, Birkitt’s name was still listed in the show credits.
Of course then she goes on to end the piece with yet another swipe at Bill Clinton, her obsession with whom goes back nearly two decades, as if she's still mad at him for not thinking she's the cutest girl around. But her point about trusting the bond with the public to tell the truth has little to do with how one handles such matters. As Letterman ruefully pointed out the other night, he may end up as the first talk show host to be impeached. But there is a difference between being an entertainer with an active, if sleazy, private life and being a president, or an aspiring one. The presidency comes with a certain moral authority, or at least it's supposed to. Yes, morality involves more than where a man puts his dick, but the American desire for the Beer Buddy President hasn't yet entirely precluded our desire to be able to look up to him. No one, least of all David Letterman himself, would ever advise telling children to be just like him.
Labels: David Letterman, Maureen Dowd