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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 10/ 9/2009

Comment Box: The Last Word on Letterman?

By Liz Kelly

David Letterman in a screengrab from Monday night's 'Late Show.' (AP)

Comment Box

A civilized debate took place during Thursday's Celebritology Live discussion about whether or not David Letterman's admitted affair with staffer Stephanie Burkitt constitutes any kind of sexual harassment.

One on side, lots of readers wrote in to protest that Dave had committed any transgression worse than being an adult carrying on a relationship with another consenting adult. But others, including a healthy portion of Celebritology's surprisingly large community of lawyers, said we're missing the point, agreeing with Gloria Allred and NOW president Terry O'Neill, both of whom are calling for CBS to take action against David Letterman for creating a hostile work environment:

"Why don't people get it that when Letterman sleeps with SOME staffers, it's the women he DIDN'T sleep with who got shafted (pun intended.) Did they get the same raises? Law school tuition? Extra favors? The whole thing makes me want to wash out my brain with Listerine. UGH." -- Mississippi Gulf Coast

That's a view seconded by Julie Menin writing at, who thinks we may yet see some aftershocks from this whole thing:

A claim of hostile work environment is not merely limited to whether or not the woman who was the recipient of the conduct felt victimized or felt her job was at risk, but rather applies to any witness of the actions.

And by The Post's Howard Kurtz, who writes, "Those who see Dave as a showbiz guy who need not answer to anyone other than his family are, in my view, missing the point that the boss was having sex with subordinates."

But there are just as many (including The Post's Tom Shales) willing to give Letterman a pass:

"I'm a die-hard feminist and a lawyer and I just can't get too worked up about this. They were consenting adults, and there has been no allegation of sexual harassment and only a little third and fourth-hand snarking about possible favoritism. If this had been a serious problem at his company, it would have been made public before now." -- anonymous Celebritology Live chatter

"I am concerned with these idiots making sweeping statements on behalf of all women. I know Dave acted inappropriately. But he has admitted it and apologized. He is a comedian, not a clergyman or politician. And at this point the only crime in question is the blackmailing of Dave." -- anonymous Celebritology Live chatter

And still others are ready to relegate the scandal to yesterday's news:

"Dave has to deal with himself and the implications for his family. We should be over this already." -- Signed, A Woman Who Wants to Smack Gloria Allred

"I think Letterman is fortunate that the public is simply sick to death of sex scandals right now and is ready to shrug it off as consenting adults messing around." -- Los Angeles, Calif.

By Liz Kelly  | October 9, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Comment Box, Insta-Polls  
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If he loses his job, he could probably become Minister of Culture for France.

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 9, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Don't date subordinates. Period. Shoulda known better. You reap what you sow.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | October 9, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

This issues raises questions for me -- I'm a woman who works for my boyfriend. He is the company owner and I am a subordinate. The work relationship came AFTER our personal relationship (help was needed, so I started working for him). With all this talk about the impropriety of the boss sleeping with a subordinate, I wonder the implications in a situation like mine? For what it's worth, my BF goes out of his way to treat me like anyone else (no hanky panky, etc at work).

Posted by: thedix | October 9, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Actually, there should be more choices. Clearly there was "impropriety" here, because he admits it. That does NOT mean he should be investigated for sexual harassment, which is very difficult to disprove. And I'm not conflicted. I know I'm right.

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 9, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Whether or not this ends quickly will, I think, depend on whether or not other women employees do come forward and complain about the fact that since they didn't have sex, they didn't get promoted.

But if he pays them all off fast enough, maybe it will go away.

Posted by: Amelia5 | October 9, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

If he loses his job, he could probably become Minister of Culture for France.

Posted by: reddragon1

Paging Madame Bruni, Madame Carla Bruni. A Mister Letterman is here to see you.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | October 9, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

If he gave preferential treatment to his honeys or threatened the women who might have said no (have you looked at the guy, I am figuring that is a long list), then it is a problem. But, if it is between consenting adults that did not affect the workplace, it is nobody's business but the families.

Lawyer and women's rights advocate who thinks there are REAL cases of sexual harassment out there that need addressing.

Also, doesn't matter what David did. The guy still tried to get David to pay him to keep quiet about it. That is the entirety of the crime.

Posted by: epjd | October 9, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

As a feminist, I have trouble with the idea that consensual sex between two adults at work (regardless of position) is ALWAYS harassment. I think it infantalizes women (usually) by saying in effect "the poor dears can't make up their own minds or speak up for themselves if something is making them uncomfortable." There are certainly times when it IS harassment: think Dolly Parton's character in 9 to 5, although there was no actual sex in that fictional case. How to draw the line or make it clear in the law what the difference is, I have NO idea, but no matter what the case with Dave's behavior-BLACKMAIL is WRONG, all the time, in every case! So let's not forget that part of the story.

Posted by: talleyl | October 9, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

What exactly do you expect from a man who names his production company Worldwide Pants?

Posted by: MStreet1 | October 9, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

epjd you stole my thunder! I should have hit refresh before I posted my comment!

Posted by: talleyl | October 9, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Wonder what the employee handbook says about secret bedrooms in the workplace?

The cynic in me says his ratings will determine what punishment he receives from his employers.

Don't get me wrong, I like Dave. I believe he was contrite but he was totally out of line. You know that you and me would be fired on the spot for the same behavior.

Friday exercise, Top Ten Excuses for a Secret Workplace Bedroom:

Posted by: hodie | October 9, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

More will come out I'm sure once Halderman goes on trial, but it seems that there should be enough former staffers around from over the years who could have leaked angry gossip or even brought suit against Letterman if the workplace was toxic or if anyone felt pressured into sex. So for now, I'm thinking his actions were bad form but am not all hot & bothered about it. So to speak.

Posted by: mat00 | October 9, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the blackmail is wrong, no one is arguing that, we are discussing whether or not the behavior the blackmail revealed is wrong or not... So taking the blackmail component out of the equation and looking simply at the sex at work aspect of this all...

I guess I am in the camp of folks that say that it isn't about the ones with whom he had consentual relationsips with (yes that is NOT sexual harrassment), its the rest, women and men.

Did this lead to an environment where everyone else felt as though they had limited opportunities because either they weren't invited to join the group grope or because they were invited and declined. Did some say yes even if they may not have wanted to because they saw what happened if you were on 'the outside'?

Lets just say (and none of us know this one way or the other) that he was extremely fair in his treatment of all of the staff (either gender) in his office regardless of the 'level' of their relationship. They can't/don't/won't ever know that for sure. That sort of stuff poisons the environment no matter what. The question will always be there and therefore the sex will have an impact on the environment of everyone there.

To me it is about authority levels... He is in a position of power not a peer to these people.

As a female who once worked in an environment with a female boss who was diddling a male employee, it felt unprofessional, I lost respect for them both and I felt like there was no way that their relationship could NOT impact treatement of each other and the rest of the staff...

Also worked in a place where the big cheese got a subordinant pregnant and got fired. There are also numerous married couples in that organization but they work in different departments and do not have supervisory relationships to one another. That to me is ok, although they need to maintain a professional atmosphere.

Posted by: LTL1 | October 9, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Also I don't necessarily agree with the argument that since no one has complained, the environment can't have been toxic...

People know it is a small world and often suck it up in the worry that they may otherwise burn bridges...

Posted by: LTL1 | October 9, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

You know, I can not get too worked up over it. It appears consensual and do we know that other staffers who did not put out got shafted, as it were? Although, 200k as a Late Night staffer, I want that job, but Dave cannot have his way with me.

Since I am a live and let live kinda cat, morals and social mores don't do much for me.

Sex in the office place happens. I need all my fingers and toes and then some to count all the affairs and romances I have seen over the years. I can easily say almost all my exes and spouse engaged in this, as did I.

Posted by: osh123 | October 9, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I would like to remind the Alred haters that she called for an investigation of Michael Jackson after he dangled the baby out the window (clearly stoned out of his mind) and was laughed at. Who is laughing now? This is another case of a enabled celebrity who feels above it all and who needs to be held accountable.

Posted by: mcmantis1 | October 9, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm with LTL on this one. Even if he never played favorites, it had to have poisoned the atmosphere - what a crappy place to work that must be. And I find it very hard to believe that he never, not once, put one of his honeys ahead of someone else objectively more qualified for whatever task/role/promotion.

Posted by: northgs | October 9, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

"I think Letterman is fortunate that the public is simply sick to death of sex scandals right now and is ready to shrug it off as consenting adults messing around." -- Los Angeles, Calif.

This was me, but there was more. It went something like "That said, I'm uneasy with the fact that everyone is shrugging off the ick nast hiring-my-own-personal-harem aspect of this" and something else about whether there were any female staffers who he wasn't sleeping with (meaning, are all those jobs staffed by men?)

Yeah, consenting adults and all that, and workplace romances happen, but still, he's the big kahuna not some random supervisor. Just blech.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | October 9, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

If Dave pledges to stop wetting his weenie in the office pool, will he win next year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | October 9, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I nominate sasquatch for Comment of the Week!

Posted by: talleyl | October 9, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Why even report that Shales is willing to give Letterman a pass? Isn't that a given, as Shales is the same pervert whose defends Roman Polanski's rape because "in Hollywood, a 13 year old isn't really 13."

Posted by: alvint | October 9, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Women writers everywhere are wondering who they have to sleep with to join this award winning writing staff:

Dave hired women and continues to hire women. Two women produce his show. Unless and until someone steps up and says they were denied equal treatment because she didn't sleep with him, I'm withholding judgement.

Is he a scumbag? Anyone who makes out with his mistress in a car parked in her boyfriend's driveway is a royal scumbag. I just stop short of calling him a harassing scumbag.

Posted by: mdreader01 | October 9, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

How is CBS supposed to take action against Letterman when Les Moonves is married to Julie Chen?

Posted by: onlytheshadowknows1 | October 9, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Anybody who has worked in an office where the boss was sleeping with one of the staffers (which everybody knows about, of course, no matter how hard they try to conceal it) knows that feeling, when you wonder whether she is getting a bigger bonus than you are, a better evaluation, more face time with important clients. more leniency on sick leave and vacation, etc., etc, etc.

Let's be real, it's just inevitable that a boss will subtly favor a subordinate who shares his bed over one who doesn't.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 10, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

How come no one is commenting about the lady in question? First she's in bed w/ Dave, then a CBS producer. Maybe she's the perpetrator and not the victim. How many times has a woman taken a job and looked for the most influential or richest man around the office to go after? The men might be looking for a little action but it's usually the woman who gets the game going.

Posted by: msjn1 | October 11, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

It really doesn't matter now what the general public believes as the case is now in the realm of courts and the details will continue to drip for an extended period of time.

However, it does seem to have provided another of those teacheable moments. All the personal experiences relating to office "romances" that have been posted for public reading will impact many people and many work environments.

Posted by: Thependulumswings | October 11, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

So many customers and not one of them dissatisfied! Amazing! On the other hand whoever did not want to try on the "worldwide pants" made a very wrong career choice and did not go on to become producers and what not in show business. The bedroom above the theater: Just one of many fringe benefits in Dave's contract; together with the obligation of CBS to surround Dave only with young good looking female staffers. It was like fishing in a fish tank, really!

Posted by: patansoare | October 11, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm conflicted.

But, in Dave's favor: I understand that his staff is treated very well. One benefit offered to everyone is an interest-free loan for higher education.

And, it seems significant that all this was an open secret, but there were never any angry rumors (or lawsuits) floating around.

Posted by: dadada | October 11, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Here's the thing: someone always has an edge over someone in the workplace, as far as promotions or raises go. And it rarely has anything to do with talent or drive.

One place I worked, the COO smoked. And the people who hung out outside with her and smoked at the same time got all sorts of perqs and bennies and promotions and raises that those of us who didn't smoke did.

Another job, the boss was a golf fanatic. If you golfed with him, you certainly were looked on more favorably than if you didn't.

One of my favorite jobs? When layoffs rolled around, the manager let go anyone he didn't party with (which left the department decimated of talent, because those of us who did the work generally didn't bail out on work early for happy hours and/or roll in late after mid-week clubbing/concerts).

If this was consensual - and it appears to be - then that's life.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 11, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I really don't understand why this is anybody's business. Letterman is an entertainer, not a politician.

Posted by: mortified469 | October 11, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse


42% above agree.

The remaining 58% apparently 'do it by hand.' LOL

Posted by: | October 11, 2009 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Letterman acknowledged the pain and despair that his betrayal caused his wife. It seems that he does not recognise the damage, betrayal and despair that he caused to the husband who was cuckolded. In fact, he doesn't care that the guy was hurt. No, Letterman may not even care about his wife if his real concern is about himself and the chance that he will lose his wife and his son.

I hope that he reconsiders the idea of prosecuting the cuckolded husband and engages in a little introspection.

He used words such as 'horrible' when contemplating is wife's suffering. Why does it not cross his mind to use that word when talking about the husband. It seems that he can damage people and not care one iota.

Posted by: robertjames1 | October 12, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

Get a life.

Posted by: whocares666 | October 12, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

I have more respect for David Letterman now than in the past. These women should be honored to have an affair with him.

Posted by: wendywiesenthal | October 12, 2009 4:42 AM | Report abuse

I doubt there was any blackmail attempt.
Except in Letterman's mind.

Posted by: BrianX9 | October 12, 2009 5:17 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but nobody can treat their employees fairly if they're sleeping with some of them.

Either sleep with all of them or none of them.

Posted by: postfan1 | October 12, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

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