Most celebrities have to deal with TMZ.com and the rest of the paparazzi. David Letterman has it worse. The host of CBS's "Late Night" was stalked by a crazed fan for years. Now, an extortionist has attempted to shake down the talk-show host for $2 million, threatening to reveal that Letterman has sexual affairs with a number of staffers. According to a CBS statement (via New York Times), the extortionist "was an
employee of the CBS news program '48 Hours' and was arrested on charges
of attempted grand larceny." RadarOnline obtained confirmation from the New York Police Department that the man is a producer named Robert Halderman. Letterman himself revealed the astounding news on last night's show. Video here:
The blogosphere reacted at once, commentators expressing a mixture of shock and disbelief, but also condemnation for what some consider Letterman's shoddy treatment of women and abuse of power in sleeping with subordinates. In confessing the details of the plot, the host alluded to fears that he might lose his job as a result.
Allahpundit at Hot Air says simply: "Weird. And awful."
Fox punching bag Alan Colmes braces for the onslaught from conservatives still angry at Letterman for teeing off on Bristol Palin: "Palin fans are going to jump all over this."
Michelle Malkin obliges, though she balances sympathy with disgust: "Very sorry to hear about the blackmail attempt. That's a hellish and terrible thing for anyone to go through. As for the affairs with staff members and the damage done to his family, though, you can't be too surprised given Letterman's contempt for women."
Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz adds some perspective, tweeting on the implications for Letterman: "Extortion aside, got to be embarrassing for Letterman to admit to sexual affairs with more than one member of his staff"... and also for the president: "Good thing Obama went on Letterman before this came out. Would have been awwwk-ward."
Beyond gut reactions, a few commentators attempted to predict the broader ramifications of Letterman's shocking confession. Citing the weirdness of the viewing experience--the studio audience giggling, rather than gasping, as Letterman told his story--Entertainment Weekly's television critic, Ken Tucker, had this to say:
In a sense, Letterman had a captive audience with which to frame his admission. But that said, this was an extraordinary piece of television. He took what could be a damaging scandal, a tale of blackmail and workplace relationships, and turned it into a story that was at least in part about what he termed his "towering, Midwestern mass of guilt."
...This is going to play out in ways that you or I or Letterman cannot predict. There are going to be a lot of talks about consensual versus coerced sexual relationships, about Letterman's history of making jokes about straying politicians. We'll hear debates and conjectures about his long-term relationship and marriage since March to Regina Lasko, the mother of his son, Harry. Letterman will be mocked and he'll be defended.
As it stands right now, though, what Letterman did last night was a striking, unique, and -- for all the laughter it provoked -- dramatic example of how a celebrity deals with both a threat and a scandal.