brucekluger.com

    USA Today, October 8, 2009

    The Letterman lesson: Use truth as a weapon

    By Bruce Kluger


    It is now nearly one week since
    LettermanGate first burst onto
    TV screens, front pages and
    Blackberrys nationwide, and the
    media remain in unapologetic
    full-throttle. Having already
    wrung every drop of dirty
    dishwater from this odd tale of
    sex, checks and affections,
    reporters continue to survey the
    outer fringes of the story’s
    seedy landscape, hoping to tap
    a fresh reservoir of bodice-
    ripping, scurrilous slime.

    Last weekend, The New York Post heavy-panted its way through a largely empty
    expose that dubbed Dave a “skirt-chasing funnyman” while depicting his private
    office at the Ed Sullivan Theater as a door-swinging sex-den, complete with fold-out
    couch.

    The Daily Beast unveiled the down-and-dirty on Joe Halderman, the “rogue” CBS
    News producer-turned-alleged extortionist, whose clumsy attempt to blow the lid off
    Dave’s randy past earned him a phony $2 million check and a very real bill for
    $200,000 in bail.

    And TMZ.com—ground zero for all that is knock-yer-socks-off-shocking—posted an
    interview with a heretofore unknown Letterman intern, complete with the usual
    unspectacular quotes (“I was madly in love with him”) and predictably blurry jpegs.

    And yet for all the ink and bytes devoted to this bizarre saga, here’s what I find most
    compelling: that David Letterman successfully navigated his way through three
    explosive crises—personal, professional and legal—by simply telling the truth.

    Unlike the similarly cornered Sens. John Edwards and John Ensign, Gov. Elliot
    Spitzer and (sigh) Bill Clinton, who initially body-blocked media inquires about their
    affairs with everything from finger-wagging resentment to faux-humility to flat-out
    denial, Letterman confessed to his past philandering instantly (“I have had sex with
    women who work for me on this show,” he revealed), and he did so proactively,
    rather than in the crouch of self-defense.

    Unlike the bathroom-cruising Sen. Larry (“I am not gay”) Craig, who responded to
    charges of “lewd conduct” at a Minneapolis airport by claiming that cops had simply
    misread a little innocent stall-footsie, Letterman approached authorities the moment
    he knew he was being shaken down, and even testified to the facts before a grand
    jury.

    And unlike Gov. Mark Sanford, who justified his 5000-mile field trip to Argentina to
    rendezvous with his secret “soul mate” as something more spiritual than your typical
    sleazy tryst, Letterman copped to the all-too-ordinary sordidness of his office-fling
    history, even calling his own actions “creepy.”

    This is why David Letterman will be forgiven his workplace hanky-panky. Because,
    in the end, what people (and, should it go this far, juries) admire most is straight
    talk, and that is precisely what Dave dished out last Thursday evening—along with
    a few laughs, of course.

    Which brings up an interesting question: Did Letterman effectively duck more
    serious scrutiny of his trespasses by donning his customary goofball persona and
    beating the media to the punch by beating himself up first?

    Probably—but the fact is, this is wholly consistent with the Letterman America has
    been inviting into its bedrooms for more than a quarter-century. Not only has he
    routinely used his late-night forum as his own personal scrapbook—talking about
    his heart surgery, his speeding tickets, the birth of his son—he’s also been the first
    to bust himself for the occasional idiocy—such as mistakenly targeting the wrong
    daughter of Sarah Palin in an off-color joke last June. He apologized immediately.

    CBS and Worldwide Pants (Letterman’s production company) will undoubtedly
    continue to investigate this matter, if only to determine whether David Letterman
    crossed the line—or broke a law—by engaging in sex with subordinates. But unless
    something else erupts—and it would have to be something pretty big—you can file
    the story of Dave’s Deviant Dalliance where it belongs—as yesterday’s news.