I have a hard time laughing at awful people.
I will not be shedding tears or watching while biting my lower lip as David Letterman, Late Night Fick and ethics corrupter, finally leaves the pop culture scene, one hopes forever. The testimonials and accolades in Letterman’s case are nauseating; CNN spent almost 20 minutes singing his praises this morning. Every other late night talk show icon—Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno—managed to finish their tenures without making American society meaner, more divided, and less ethical in the process. Not Dave. He rode his stardom and the initially refreshing irreverent comic instincts that created it to test the limits of the King’s Pass, doing and saying things that would have gotten less lucrative performers fired or suspended. In the process he corrupted his network, his audience and his nation’s culture.
The fact that Letterman is a misanthropic, bitter, angry man should not be a surprise, for almost all the great comics are, and it has ever been thus. “Milton was a miserable bastard. We all are,” Sid Caesar once said to a shocked Larry King as he was trying to coax out some kind words about Milton Berle, who had just died. Sid was undeniably right, but most comic manage to keep their vile behavior out of the spotlight until someone in his inner circle cashes in with a tell-all book. Not Letterman. He cheated on his live-in girlfriend with his current wife, then had a son with his mistress six years before he deigned to marry her. Once whimsical, he became a broadcast bully, neatly choosing victims whom he knew he could abuse without his liberal audience—a bit older and less vulgar than Bill Maher’s—holding him to standards of decency.
In 2009, Letterman noted that Sarah Palin attended a Yankees game during a recent trip to New York City. First Letterman referred to Palin, then Alaska’s governor, as having the style of a “slutty flight attendant,” then said, “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game…during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” The daughter accompanying Palin was Willow Palin, then 14-years-old. Sarah Palin, among others, sharply criticized the late night host’s choice of targets. The next night, Letterman unconvincingly claimed that he was really attacking Bristol, Palin’s older daughter.
Oh, well that’s OK, then. If he had made a similar joke about Chelsea Clinton, CBS would have suspended Letterman so fast he wouldn’t have had time to say bye-bye to Paul Shaffer. It wasn’t until later, after NOW weighed in on the inappropriateness of Letterman’s joke, that he finally apologized to all involved. See, the National Organization for Women matter–they’re not conservatives. Or Republicans.
NOW was strangely quiet, however, when it was revealed later that year that the recently-married Dave was a serial sexual harasser and running his show and production company like his own personal harem. Among his conquests was Holly Hester, who announced that she and Letterman had engaged in a year-long “secret” affair in the early 1990s while she was his intern and a student at New York University. The official explanation for why no discipline of Letterman was forthcoming was, believe it or not, that Worldwide Pants, Dave’s appropriately-named production company, had no policies forbidding superiors from boinking their staff members, who depended on them for their career advancement and livelihood. Gee, I wonder why? Continue reading