Tube Tied: David Letterman Cheats, Women Shrug

Michelle Dean
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Other than Jon, by and large, I have never been much of a watcher of late-night TV.  This is no doubt a function of my demographic.  I'm too young - I grew up post-Carson.   I'm also entirely too cynical to enjoy most celebrity interviews, because much of the time I'm thinking, "It's really bizarre that Kirsten Dunst is this inarticulate," or, "Why hasn't Jared Leto showered?"  There are too many books in the world to read, too many blogs to surf, too much sleep to be gotten for me to watch these people night after night, even in the age of the DVR.  And I've written in this space before about my suspicion that there isn't any grand standard of comedy anymore, and it seems to me like the non-Comedy-Central contingent of these shows still seem to harbour delusions on that score, of being the Great American Comedian, and so I just kind of tune them out.

So when this hullabaloo about David Letterman getting his pecker in his payroll started to kick up on Friday, readers, I yawned.  Having spewed venom all week over Roman Polanski and his defenders (Pedro, why, why??!!!), I was worn out.  Besides which, other than the extortion part, there seemed very little scandal in this scandal; the ladies involved were of age, and none appeared to be claiming coercion.  I'm not wild about professional men viewing nubile young women in the workplace as their rightful spoils, but I've been in enough exhausting conversations with male friends about such situations ("why do you want to Stand In the Way of Love?") to know better than to spend much time arguing with them about it.  I suppose Regina Lasko, Letterman's longtime girlfriend, feels somewhat differently about it, but I can't see how I or anyone else can be of use to her if we take to the soapbox to pontificate at length about just what a horndog she's married.

But the media has never been much for resisting a story about how Important It Is, and so, we have been treated to cable news coverage of this minor issue even as the public option in American health care is failing.  So I don't know whether to laugh or cry when, as Jezebel points out this morning, the media is all a-flutter about whether Women Will Be Able to Trust Letterman Now.  Granted that 58% of his viewership is female, their average age is also just under 55.  That means these women have likely known, on average, 55 years' worth of powerful and philandering men, because such is the way of this culture, and most others as far as I'm told.  That means, in short, that they could hardly have been surprised.

I'm not sure women ever trusted Letterman at all, I guess, is my point.  I realize that it fits some kind of beautiful media narrative about women having daddy issues (thank Sylvia Plath for immortalizing that one) and television obligingly providing us with reassuring figureheads, but all in all, I don't know too many women, comfortable and middle-class though they may be, who look to powerful men for moral leadership.  It's just too much of a gamble, too much of a roll of the dice.  I know women who haven't the least interest in feminism ("too man-hating") who will say that you just can't trust men.  "You just don't know what they're going to do when you're not there," said one to me the other day.  Letterman, in short, is not telling women, feminist or not, anything they don't already know: that at this time, in this culture, thinking with your penis is not only accepted, it's practically de rigeur.  If women quit watching everything by men who were known or suspected cheaters, there'd probably be nothing left on television.

I know that's a bit of a gloss.  I know not all men are the same.  I know that women cheat too.  But I also know that powerful women don't appear, so consistently as powerful men do, to regard the workplace a smorgasboard of potential sexual partners, if only because the risk for powerful women is far greater.  I know that sexual freedom, if we're going to call it that, still gets exercised largely on the terms written by and for men.  And I think, all in all, women are woefully aware of these facts, simply because they live in a world where men do these things, all the time, and still get to be Governor of New York, President of the United States, and self-anointed King of Late Night TV.  Most of the time, we all shrug: it is what it is.  We'd like to change it, we'd like to be surprised by things like this.  But outrage?  Ugh, at some point your sense of indignation gets dulled beyond repair.  There are so many other things to be righteously angry about.

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16 Comments Have Been Posted

I couldn't have said it

I couldn't have said it better myself. That's probably why I didn't...

Thank you, as always, for putting it all to words that fail me. (This goes for all your articles. I don't usually comment because it would be redundant.)


If we cannot judge somebody by their actions, what else do we have? While I agree it is touchy to comment on somebody's relationship, the very essence of an imbalance of power is a man living out his sexual fantasies, with or without his partner's "consent." Unless she comes out and happily says that his behaviour is all right by her because she does the same thing (highly unlikely given that she has a small child to care for) his actions point to a selfish and narcissistic man. What's more, any woman who is at home with a small child could not possibly agree (absent some sort of coercion -- thus not true consent) to an "open" relationship. Especially where a family is concerned, sex is very much a moral issue.

Poly Relationships

"What's more, any woman who is at home with a small child could not possibly agree (absent some sort of coercion -- thus not true consent) to an "open" relationship. Especially where a family is concerned, sex is very much a moral issue.

Surely you are not speaking for the vast numbers of women in open or poly relationships who have small children, right?

Because that would be presumptuous and idiotic, especially since you are clearly not poly.

It is neither idiotic nor

It is neither idiotic nor presumptuous to argue that most people, male or female, are not culturally equipped to handle an open relationship. Most of us have the expectation that romantic love is an expression of unique sexual desire. It would be incredibly difficult to overcome this expectation, and I am even more sceptical that is can be overcome by a woman facing the realities of caring for a small child, which is a vulnerable position. So, yes, I am completely sceptical when people tell me that they are in consensual open relationships -- in my experience the need to feel that one is uniquely desired and loved overcomes the wish to be open minded about sex.

Sex is a moral issue because it can be used to manipulate, coerce, persuade or conquer another human being. The fact that someone has multiple partners, in itself is not a moral failure, rather the moral failure comes in when the reasons behind the multiple partners becomes apparent. Experience / statistics / whatever you call it does indicate that often people who have multiple partners while maintaining a relationship do have issues that need sorting. Their behaviour is hurtful. I don't need Mr. Letterman do apologize before knowing with almost 100% certainty that his behaviour was hurtful to his partner, and there is probably a disparity in power between them.

As an aside,

Letterman <a href=" apologized to his wife on-air last night, and implied she is unhappy</a>. While I get this new impulse to shrug and say, "Maybe it was an open relationship," whenever someone engages in this kind of behaviour, usually they're only admitting it under duress, and the extortion would have packed a lot less punch if this was an open relationship-type situation.

I agree that having lots and lots of sex with lots and lots of people is not a moral failing in and of itself. However, I am somewhat skeptical, in this culture, of pretending that men who behave like Letterman has usually respect the boundaries of monogamous relationships and we shouldn't presume that they aren't cheating. Statistically speaking, this simply isn't true.

"While I get this new

"While I get this new impulse to shrug and say, "Maybe it was an open relationship," whenever someone engages in this kind of behaviour, usually they're only admitting it under duress, and the extortion would have packed a lot less punch if this was an open relationship-type situation."

Well, couples can be in open relationships that they still don't necessarily want to advertise to the world. I haven't followed the story terribly closely, but if the extortionist was planning on making a big splash in the media about it, it's possible that would have been embarrassing to Dave and his wife.

It's quite possible that Dave and his wife are in an open relationship and all or select numbers of their friends are aware, and they simply wanted to avoid the scandal of having their private life splashed across the papers.

There's also the case that we don't know when this all happened (unless that's come out and I missed it), so even though Dave's wife is unhappy, it could just be because she and her private life are in the news and she doesn't want it to be.

Additional possibilities include:

1. Elliot and Silda Spitzer were in an open relationship.

2. Mark and Jenny Sanford were in an open relationship.

3. Aliens from the planet Megatroyd descended, implanted a chip in Dave's brain, and directed him to sleep with every female twentysomething in a three-mile radius. It is only through the force of Dave's moral will that he has not impregnated every young female to pass through Times Square in the last decade.

While I'm obviously not claiming to be privy to anyone's internal thoughts, I think it's safe to say that what's possible and what's probable here are not, altogether, the same thing. Statistically speaking, it doesn't strike me as too likely that she's thrilled about any of this - he himself described the atmosphere at home as "chilly" - and in which case that does indicate she feels somewhat betrayed.

In any event, I'm not losing sleep over presuming Dave is a cheater. Nor is this post a pronouncement on polyamory. Polyamory is likely a red herring here, is what I'm saying. And in any event it doesn't matter, because pretending Dave is any more of a jackass than the multiple other powerful men who have cheated on their partners strikes me as dishonest anyway.


I messed up; my previous comment wasn't meant to be a reply to yours.

I don't get all the talk

I don't get all the talk about "whether women can trust Dave." From what I gather, he had consensual sex with an adult woman. Perhaps his wife can no longer trust him, but since I'm not a) in a relationship with him or b) having sex with him, what exactly is there to mistrust and why would anyone care if I did?

The media attention on this has been heavily focused on the typical "older man preyed upon defenseless young intern" narrative. Now it's also playing on the stereotype of emotional women... as though the angry, offended, distrusting female audience is going to be too pissed to ever watch Dave again. *yawn

Oh, How I Love a Womanizer

If you watch Letterman's show (I do), it's quite obvious he digs pretty girls. Ever see the episode where he had a sexy girl from a Gap commercial enter at his cue and wriggle her hips back and forth across the stage? No shock he's been dipping into the company ink.

But what's curious to me is how these guys have so many women not only willing, but at times, dying to sleep with them. Why do women love womanizers? Check out my post, "Oh, How I Love a Womanizer" and see if you agree:

Men don't give a shit?

What's kind of funny (or sad, or pathetic, whatever) about the whole thing is the assumption inherent in the question "Can women trust Dave?" So . . . ONLY women are offended by infidelity, or lying, or unequal interoffice relationships between older men and younger women. Only women care about the possible breaking up of families. ONLY women must forgive Dave!

Do things feel a bit uneven here?

Don't get me wrong. I totally agree that the whole thing has been over-dramatized and blown out of proportion and it really isn't the whole world's business. But the fact that women are expected to be offended with Dave's behavior and men aren't expected to bat an f-ing eye is a little culturally sad, don't cha think? Because PEOPLE couldn't be asked to "forgive Dave." It's all up to the women.

Basically, this means either women are just more damn sensitive than men, or women are expected to have a moral compass while men don't have to give a shit. Either way, to the person wondering if *women* can forgive Dave, I say F U.

Agree With You ; Irritated at Growing Notion That the Women....

I agree with you but, I am irritated at the growing notion that the women who were involved with Letterman are all victims and therefore have been victimized, ( including Letterman's spouse). There may have been a hostile work environment, sex might have been a required act for women to remain on staff or to obtain promotions. In short, they may have been victimized OR these may have been private, consensual and mutually acceptable acts. The point is that I don't know and the imaginary "we" of the media doesn't know. Further, reacting with certitude that these women must have been damsels in distress who need our outrage, our rescue and protection is just as power robbing and paternalistic as the atmosphere in which sexual discrimination is allowed to thrive. I will wait for any or all of them to speak before making judgement about what happened to them. And if they need my support as a picketer of my local CBS affiliate, a writer of e-mails or letters to the editor, I will be there with bells on and my solidarity on display. However, if the message is to mind my own business while they privately handle theirs , well, I am really good at that too.


So I'm a guy and probably not welcome on here but I came across this site out of shear boredom. Anyhow, why do the editors of this website claim to not hate men and then they write about men in a hateful way. If a man wrote an article smearing women in general (as this article attempts to smear all men), the man would be considered a sexist. But it's ok for you all to write hateful things about men such as: "...I also know that powerful women don't appear, so consistently as powerful men do, to regard the workplace a smorgasboard of potential sexual partners....." or "If women quit watching everything by men who were known or suspected cheaters, there'd probably be nothing left on television." Both these statements have nothing to do with feminism, but everything to do with spewing hatred toward men. I now understand why none of the editors are willing to show their faces in the About Us section.

David Letterman may have

David Letterman may have jumped the shark by this point. As much as we love the Top 10 Lists, he's starting to get more attention than a late night show possibly should. It was revealed that David Letterman was the victim of an extortion plot. A former producer for CBS, got a hold of the diary of Stephanie Birkitt, who used to work on the Late Show, and she and Letterman had an affair. He supposedly had affairs with other women who worked on his show. He was blackmailed and alerted police, who arrested this clown. So it looks like no money from David Letterman, but this goofball will need the <a rev="vote for" title="David Letterman Extortion Turns into Comedy Bit on Show" href=" ">best personal loan rates</a> for an attorney.

Letterman is SUCH an odd guy

Letterman is SUCH an odd guy off of his own show - looking down with eyes almost closed half the time, what body language.
Letterman, I'd be reeeally careful about making cracks about women. You know, in light of (somewhat) recent events. Just in case you don't want to seem like a douche.
Your jokes don't offend me as a woman, they offend me as a comedian...

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