Unsurprisingly, American media is going into overdrive on David Letterman’s claims that he had sex with his staffers.
The revelation on Friday followed threats of extortion by Robert Joel Halderman, a producer for the CBS news show 48 Hours. He was indicted by a grand jury on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted grand larceny in a New York court appearance on Friday.
When Letterman told his audience of the incident he did so with such skill that audiences laughed all the way throught it, expecting a punchline at the end.
As one TV Tonight reader who was in the audience said, “The audience reaction was really bizarre as when he first started talking about it we thought it was going to be a ‘joke’ story, laughter continued throughout most of the story until the very end. Even when he mentioned the sex most of the people still laughed. It took a while before the audience realised it was serious.”
Letterman’s longtime personal assistant, Stephanie Birkitt, is believed to be the woman at the centre of the claims, with a sexual relationship ending before Letterman was married in March.
But People Magazine notes another sexual relationship with one of his “peers, a woman close to him, not an intern.”
A source says: “It wasn’t a big deal because he wasn’t married. And we heard he had a girlfriend (Regina Lasko, whom Letterman married in March 2009), but she never came around, so it just wasn’t a big deal.”
While some media are stunned by the audience response to the admission, others look at how it might impact on his late-night comedic role.
“How can he ever joke about the sex lives of celebrities or politicians again? Much of the humor came from the hypocrisy of the personalities involved — and it is now he is seen as just such a hypocrite,” says The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik.
And just to prove how circular the world really is, the other talk show hosts are making gags on it. While Conan simply said “No comment,” Jay Leno remarked, “What is going on? First Conan hit his head, and then somebody tries to extort money from Letterman. I’m so glad I’m out of late-night.”