David Letterman is a very funny man, especially when he's being blackmailed. Anyone who watched his late-nite admission Thursday to being the victim of a blackmail scheme as a result of his sexual dalliances with former female staffers on his show had to marvel at the aplomb with which he brought that bombshell off.
Here's a guy making a pretty damaging admission of moral turpitude, but though obviously stricken with remorse he managed to hold his head up. His humiliating mea culpa of past dalliances was a rambling, tragicomic routine that left his stunned audience unsure whether to laugh or cry.
Naturally, the rush to judgment in the tabloids and on the blogs was swift, with calls for Letterman to resign or even face criminal prosecution for sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace for female subordinates. One hopes it doesn't come to that. Letterman's sexual indiscretions, however hurtful to his family and disappointing to his fans, so far all appear to have been with consenting adults. And as Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales has pointed out, Letterman is a comedian, not a politician like South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford or Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who both came to grief after their illicit affairs were unmasked. Unlike them, Letterman doesn't lecture his listeners about family values or hold himself up as a model of moral rectitude. He can't be accused of their blatant hypocrisy.
As for Robert J. Halderman, the CBS TV producer who is now charged in the attempted extortion of $2 million from Letterman, one can only wonder at the collosal stupidity of a blackmailer who accepts payment by check -- and then tries to deposit the ill-gotten gains at his local bank. What was the man thinking? If there's anything at all funny about this sad and dispiriting episode it's that Halderman, who produced the "48 Hours" investigative news program and had years of experience covering police undercover operations, stings and wiretaps, thought he could blackmail a network colleague and actually get away with it. In retrospect, that kind of credulity can only be described as truly laughable.