Once you’re a member of the Hollywood club (or the Washington club, for all intents and purposes), you automatically become a target for public scrutiny. In other words, people can rip apart your wardrobe, demand you go on a diet or place you in an imaginary couple without any of your say.
If you’re walking around with this big fat bull’s-eye on your forehead with the world ready to shoot at any moment, you should probably learn to refrain from doing a few things. For instance, DUIs are pretty bad. And lying. You also shouldn’t get caught laundering money, doing drugs or saying something you know your mother would not be proud of in the vicinity of an open mic.
But even with the generous amount of public slack given for celebrity mistakes and missteps, there’s one rule that those who make it to the big leagues continue to break: Don’t get caught in a sex scandal.
David Letterman obviously did not get the memo, though his punishment has been fairly lax.
Last week, sexual affairs and a poorly thought-out extortion plot (creatively termed “sextortion” by CNN) were splashed all over late night television.
Letterman was blackmailed by Robert Joel Halderman, a producer for the CBS show 48 Hour Mystery. Halderman asked Letterman to fork over $2 million, or he would reveal all the intimate secrets of the several sexual exploits Letterman had with female staff members.
Instead, Letterman went public and gave Halderman a fake check (which eventually led to his arrest), while the public collectively yawned. In an era when Bill Clinton, wayward priests and Republican congressmen gain substantial media coverage for sexploits, the admission — although serious — was not all that shocking.
Maybe it’s because workplace affairs have become a societal vice that is frowned upon yet accepted. According to Vault.com, an online career site, nearly 8 million people engage in at least one romance with a co-worker, with an estimated 50 percent going unreported. A Letterman staffer told the New York Post that the talk show host had a “restricted” room in the Ed Sullivan Theater equipped with a fold-out couch and a kitchen — perfect for the after-show tryst.
A career expert on the site also said that, given the state of economy, workplace romances are likely to increase, as people are dangerously going to more creative lengths to secure their jobs (the site euphemistically cited flirting).
Still, because of this desperation to keep a job as well as the convenience of a workplace romance, the work environment has become a little distracting. The National Organization of Women chose a different word: toxic.
Letterman is also facing backlash from activist groups. NOW is accusing the funnyman of creating a “toxic, inappropriate and hostile work environment for women and employees.” In NOW’s defense, Letterman’s behavior fits the tired affair cliché: the boss that propositions his subordinates.
His abuse of power helped boost the careers of each of the women to whom he was linked, an obvious no-no. Each of Letterman’s office flings were said to have been given huge financial advantages and promotions. As far as being goal-oriented, I’m sure Monica Lewinsky had big career ambitions too.
Looking at the situation in this way, the comedic host merits a more severe punishment than a public wrist slap.
The fact that (work) vacations with his mistress occurred while he was married makes his behavior even less forgivable. Where Letterman is under fire is the fine line between obliging a young intern seeking a promotion and a serious issue of ethics, abuse and potential sexual harassment. Still, the viewers and Letterman’s home network CBS have come rushing to his support, allowing the funnyman to publicly laugh off his shortcomings.
The affable figure is hard to hold a grudge against, and it seems that the general public has moved on — lamenting only that fear of hypocrisy will remove all womanizer jokes from Letterman’s arsenal.
Christopher Agutos is a junior majoring in public relations. His column, “Pop Life,” runs Tuesdays.