I stopped watching David Letterman years ago, when I learned that he was an unapologetic serial sexual harasser. I don’t like to patronize the work of professionals, however talented, who should have been fired and would have, if their employers had any integrity. As a result, I missed Letterman’s ascent into ethics hero territory. It pains me to admit this, since I neither like nor generally respect him, but that is where David Letterman belongs.
On the June 5, 2011 edition of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” the host smilingly pulled his finger across his throat to note the U.S. military’s reported killing of Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamist terrorist who was one of the organizers of a deadly attack in India that killed and wounded hundreds of innocent civilians. On a roll, Letterman made a joke about Osama bin Laden’s death as well.A group of radical Islamists took offense, and in a posting on the Islamist web forum Shumukh al-Islam, called for Letterman’s murder, urging the eventual assassin to cut out Letterman’s tongue.
Unlike the U.S. news media, which mostly declined to reprint the provocative Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad because their editors were afraid of Muslim reprisals, and Yale University, which removed the same cartoons from a scholarly book about the controversy, “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” for fear they would incite violence from Muslim extremists, and Comedy Central, which responded to threats about a gag about Islam on the animated show “South Park” by censoring the episode, and even Penn & Teller, the comedy magic act that satirizes anything and everything…except the Islamic faith…because they fear for their families, David Letterman did not allow foreign, radical, American culture and liberty-hating extremists dictate speech in the United States.
The comic had CBS increase security at the Manhattan theater where “The Late Show” is taped, and Letterman beefed up his personal and home security. Then, in a show of defiance, he joked about the threat on the air. He told his audience that they were “more than an audience,” in fact “a human shield.” He devoted his “Top Ten” Lists that night to the terrorist threats on his life.
David Letterman has provided a high-profile model of courage and integrity for all the other supposed champions of free speech and American freedoms who collapse into quivering obedience when terrorists demand their respect and silence. As Adam Turner, staff counsel to the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project, has written about his actions,
“David Letterman did everything exactly right. Even while taking prudent protective precautions, he refused to apologize for his free speech, or to censor himself…His example is important, not least because Letterman is so prominent, and this incident is so public. Let’s hope he spurs others to follow in his footsteps, so that threats and intimidation do not silence free expression in this country on any topic.”
I agree. Letterman is an Ethics Hero, and an important one.
Now if he just can keep his hands off of his female employees, I may even start watching him again.
One thought on “Ethics Hero: David Letterman”
Good for Letterman. The courage to exercise one’s American right of free speech in the face of nameless terrorist threats has unfortunately become the rarity, not the norm.
I agree that it is difficult to separate the public man/woman from the private one, and I have fought this dissonance this causes with a number of politicians, entertainers, cause leaders, and others — for years. There are many, for example, for whom I respect their public decisions, actions or talents, but do not respect as people because they have proven to be unethical, lying, unkind, venal, and/or even criminal in their personal lives. This is a particularly difficult examination to undertake with political and cause leaders who really, really have had important and positive impact on the history and culture of our country, and it does cause extreme difficulty if one tries to balance the positives and negatives of each. Entertainers, on the other hand, can easily become non-entities in my life and consciousness, and many have become so.
I haven’t made up my mind about returning to watching Letterman’s show, yet. But Letterman did take a exemplary and brave stance against the increasing threat of foreign and home-grown terrorists, and regardless of his other problems, I respect him very much for that. The other weenies who publicly caved to such threats are off my list for good: Letterman is teetering on the edge, considering this latest piece of information about him.
Regardless, bravo to him for this particular act of courage.