Tuesday, March 16, 2010
by Robin Sax
CBS News producer Robert Halderman plead guilty to second-degree larceny in a New York courtroom this week. It is quietly over for David Letterman, who has come out on top of this whole mess. No trial, no fuss, and no punch line. Halderman attempted to extort $2 million from Letterman back in October of 2009 by threatening to expose the late night host’s affair with Stephanie Birkitt and other sexual liaisons.
But Letterman went on national television and preempted Halderman. He came clean about having the affairs. He bravely thwarted Halderman’s attempted extortion. And we all gasped!
I know we were all pretty shocked when Letterman made his announcement. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this story was not that he was extorted, not that he had sex while having a girlfriend, and not that Robert Halderman actually tried to cash the $2 million check. Oh, no, it was the response of Letterman's audience that was most intriguing.
His audience laughed at what they thought was a punch line, but this was no joke. If you watch that original admission back in October you’ll see the strain and lines in Letterman’s forehead. This was no laughing matter. But Letterman gets the last laugh now.
I say kudos to Letterman, who probably made one of the most difficult appearances in his career. To come clean before the whole nation is something we don’t see very often. Actually, I don’t even remember the last celebrity figure or politician who had the guts to do it.
A decade ago, such an announcement could have been the beginning of the end of a career. But honesty goes a long way today. Letterman will move on unscathed.
When Letterman addressed the case this week, his audience had a decidedly different reaction: somber and respectful.
Letterman started with: “I need to talk to you about a segment of my life here that began six months ago,” and the audience received him very well.
Letterman said he brought the matter to the attention of the New York District Attorney’s office because he “was concerned and full of anxiety and nervous and worried.” The District Attorney’s office told Letterman at the time that the case “will be handled professionally, this will be handled skillfully, and appropriately.”
Letterman praised the NY DA’s office, saying: “Well, the matter was resolved today, and they were exactly right – it was handled professionally, skillfully and appropriately.” He then personally thanked members of the DA’s office.
As part of a plea bargain, Halderman will receive six months in jail, five years probation, and a thousand hours of community service. I think Halderman should get more then six months, but that’s just me.
Letterman, meanwhile, wanted to ensure that he wasn’t going to be extorted again, so he did the right thing: he shaped the message and told the truth. All public figures, politicians, law enforcement and entertainment personalities should learn from Letterman’s example.
But it's likely that in the future, public figures will still pretend “it never happened” when things come out -- and then have to lamely apologize when it’s proved that “yes, it did!” Fact is this: Today, people will find out about your mistakes and talk about them. In the global media market, with interconnected networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn, you can’t hide from the truth.
If you’re honest, just like Letterman, you'll come out on top. You may even get applause, and in the end, justice. Letterman is the big winner here and will move on with his life as the host of The Late Show. The loser, Halderman, is exactly where he should be: in jail.Tweet