Lecherous Letterman?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


Like the nearly four million people who regularly watch his late night comedy show, I’ve always found David Letterman hilarious. But I don’t find it funny that he’s been having sex with his staffers for years.


The story broke last Thursday when CBS producer Robert Joel Halderman was arrested outside the CBS Manhattan office for trying to extort $2 million from Letterman. Letterman quickly fessed up on-air, calling himself “creepy” and telling his audience that night: “I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”


I wonder how many working women agree with public relations veteran Ken Sunshine, asked by the Washington Post for his view: “He didn’t murder anybody. He was extorted. It’s consenting adults. Nobody’s accusing him of rape. This is [like] shoplifting.”


Jeez, he makes it feel like we should all feel sorry for poor Dave. But as a woman who’s navigated large and small workplaces for over 25 years, I’d like to present a different view.


Workplace sexual harassment is a crime. And not a victimless one, as many like Mr. Sunshine would prefer we believe. The less power you have at your workplace – the younger you are, or the more you need the job – the more vulnerable you are to being insulted, groped, or pressured into having sex with someone who outranks you, formally within the office hierarchy or informally through seniority.


The first time it happened to me, I was a 16-year-old girl hundreds of miles from home, living and working on a dude ranch in Wyoming to save money for college. One of the 40-year-old wranglers remarked, while we were alone in the barn and I was shoveling horseshit out of a stall, that I had “teats like a milk cow.”


Excuse me?


I told the owner of the ranch, a woman. With chagrin she explained that the man came from a prominent, longtime family in the area, invaluable to the ranch’s success. In other words, deal with it, honey. So for the rest of the summer I wore two bras to work and avoided being alone in the barn with the wrangler – no easy task.


Throughout my career I faced similarly bizarre situations. I endured a couple of hard years working for a small company president who pursued – and rewarded with promotions – female employees willing to take three hour lunches alone with him; I saw him kiss one passionately at the company Christmas party. Eeew!



I was wondering if I was the only one to feel this way about Dave. I also find him hilarious, but this was not. It shocked me that he has been given such a pass on it. It seemed that he was forgiven because he announced it himself - and that turned out to be a good move. But still, it doesn't excuse the behavior that Leslie describes- it is still wrong.


So many points of view! I can go into many directions on this one. But its funny to me how we pick and choose what's unacceptable and whats not. Letterman and other have made fun of so many topics that are undesirable and yet we start off our comment by stating "I watch him regularly and he's hilarious". You'll probably continue to patronize his show. Aren't women much more educated today than 25 years ago about vultures in the workplace.


Anyone else notice his wife and son seem to be lost in all of this. Hurting his own image is one thing, but he made promises to his family, that to me, is the lowest of the low.


Leslie, you said it all. Thanks for articulating what so many of us feel. I wish society would stop accepting lowest common denominator behavior; and worse, excusing it.