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David Letterman’s Confession

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…As we sit and talk late at night over pie at House of Pies …

Did you see David Letterman’s confession?

The first thing I thought as I watched it today (yes, it took me that long) was how much he was telling the story as if he were Garrison Keillor. The face, the asides, the pauses, the self-deprecation. And then he mentioned that he’s a “towering pile of guilt,” which motivates everything he does, and his Midwest Lutheran upbringing. Yikes! (I suppose this has occurred to other people already. Forgive me.)

Then, I started wondering again exactly why Letterman was doing this. Some have said he announced it himself as a sort of pre-emptive PR strike. If he gets it all out there first, he gets to control the story. But I think that explains only part of it.

In college, we had a teacher (a specialist in Islamic history who was actually called to Washington once on a secret mission) who told us, the first thing you do to the enemy is ridicule them. You make them seem silly, small, laughable. That’s what Letterman did. Letterman absolutely creamed Halderman. He even made fun of the small amount of money he allegedly asked for. “Who applauded the 2-million dollars? Was it the foreigners?”

Some have said it wasn’t appropriate to make jokes on the topic, it’s too serious. But what if the primary purpose of making the jokes wasn’t to get laughs? My guess is Letterman is incredibly angry at Halderman and wants to punish him, so he ridiculed him in front of millions of people by making a joke out of the whole thing. And, as long as more serious allegations don’t emerge against Letterman, he could well come out of this a bigger star BECAUSE of Halderman and the now famous monologue. It’s certainly bigger than anything Jay or Conan have managed to come up with in their new shows.

Notice when the audience applauded when he admitted to the sex? Wonder why they did? Are they just dirty? Stupid? Undersexed? I don’t think so. They didn’t clap to congratulate a multi-millionaire tv star for being able to magically seduce young women who work for him. They applauded because he admitted to the sex right away in the first airing of the scandal, unlike, say, about 500 politicians in the last twenty years. Which brings me to my last point on The Letterman Affair: the members of the Right who say Letterman is a hypocrite because he has lampooned politicians who have had affairs.

First of all, what comedians love to lambaste is not a guy who slips, but a guy who slips and then slides all over the place trying to explain away the slip. Remember Senators Love Child and Wide Stance? And Governor Love Poem?

But more to the point, I think it’s very illuminating that those who are now pointing out Letterman’s treatment of Palin and Sanford, et alia, and saying he’s a big fat hypocritical liar, don’t seem to understand that we have one set of moral standards for television stars and another for politicians – and especially politicians who legislate other people’s morality. Guess what, politics is supposed to be a higher calling than being in the media, and you might have to act a little bit better if you want to stay.

If the people don’t like a creepy late night tv star, or a pill-popping blowhard talk show host, or a curmudgeonly public radio host, they can stop listening to them. But if we don’t like a politician, we’re generally stuck with them.