The best quote about David Letterman comes from his most famous ex, Merrill Markoe, who said on her blog, “This has been a very emotional moment for me because Dave promised me many times that I was the only woman he would ever cheat on.” It’s perfect because it’s as funny as someone like Markoe could be. It’s funny because it is so true.
Two things happened this week after the Letterman sex scandal broke. The first was that before anyone could be really indignant about it, Letterman took to the airwaves. It immediately put him in a vulnerable position and begged his fans to want to protect him. The other thing that happened was that any protestation or disappointment that was expressed was given a rapid response; it was as if no one was allowed to complain, judge or moan about the fallen God.
The most prominent apologist for Letterman was probably Maureen Dowd who wrote that Letterman shouldn’t be held accountable for his behavior because he’s a court jester, a funny man, and one who was unmarried during his numerous affairs with young staffers. “Unlike Clinton, Letterman trusted the public — and his bond with them — enough to tell the truth.”
And perhaps this is true. Perhaps we can get mad at Bill Clinton for doing it in the Oval Office as a married President, but we can’t get mad at Letterman.
The whole thing sort of reminded me of Quiz Show. At the end of the Robert Redford film, Charles Van Doren is brought before the committee and the first thing he does is offer a complete and elegant apology. Because he’s already a golden boy, they all compliment him on his apology. Only one person stands up and says that Van Doren was a fraud.
In many respects Letterman was a fraud. It might not matter to Maureen Dowd, and it certainly has nothing to do with politics, or running the country, or being elected by the people and for the people, but Letterman was someone I personally admired. I didn’t admire him because I thought he was faithful to his longtime girlfriend, now wife; I admired him because he seemed to be a person of high moral character so that when he took pot shots at people of weaker character we could all feel better about things. Letterman got him. Letterman showed her.
It got to be where there were a couple of people in the media to whom we all turned, well us liberals anyway, when something really embarrassing or awful happened – Jon Stewart was one and Letterman was the other. He took Paris Hilton to task for her bad behavior. He took Clinton to task for his bad behavior. He went after Bristol Palin for her careless behavior. And this is only recently.
No, he didn’t have to explain himself to us. Yes, he was entitled to his own private life. But he put out an image of being an upstanding, faithful man. He let us believe this about him when none of it was true. That doesn’t make it a tragedy, but I have to admit a little tiny part of me was heartbroken by the news.
The one thing I never understand about men like this is why they bother with the sham in the first place. Why not just be single and let the world know you like to date young, funny girls? Why does there have to be a pretend-marriage attached to it all?
Who knows how this will all play out? In the age of the net, stuff like this is devoured. It will eventually go away and, as we’ve already seen, the public is very forgiving.