The news broke last night before "The Late Show with David Letterman" even aired: during an earlier taping of the show yesterday, Letterman had admitted to his audience that he had been the victim of an attempted blackmail scheme that would have covered up sexual affairs he'd had with some of his female staffers.
The news is certainly embarrassing -- even humiliating -- for Letterman. But is it a scandal in the same sense as say, John Edwards fathering a love child while running for president? Or Gov. Eliot Spitzer hiring hookers? And yet, "scandal" has been the word used most often so far to describe the incident, particularly on morning news shows.
"The Letterman Sex Scandal!"
That tells me I'm supposed to be shocked and outraged. Well, I'm not. Is it really all that scandalous (or even surprising) that a male millionaire TV star (who was in all likelihood unmarried at the time) had affairs with women who worked for him? Excuse me while I don't faint dead away. I would be more surprised to hear such things never happened to start with.
Here's how it would be a scandal for me: If the encounters involved sexual harassment (and maybe we'll find out they did), if the affairs involved underage girls (unlikely, even if they were pages), if Letterman were a minister or holder of public office (he most certainly is not), if Letterman had in the past expressed some kind of moral superiority over others (he has not), or possibly if Letterman were married at the time (Letterman just married his longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko earlier this year).
The scandalous part of the equation for me is that the blackmail was attempted by an Emmy Award-winning CBS news producer.
You could maybe make the case that Letterman is a hypocrite for telling all those John Edwards and Mark Sanford jokes on his show, but I still don't buy it. Elected public officials (or those seeking public office) are held to different standards than talk show hosts, aren't they? And when confronted, Letterman came clean with the public instead of lying and hiring a fall guy and making up trips to Appalachia. And Letterman is also likely to make similar jokes about himself in the coming weeks.
But it's a juicy story and everyone will want to know the details, so the media is going to go nuts with it. That's the price you pay for being in the public eye, and I'm sure Letterman accepts that. My suspicion is that the people who will be the most outraged and the most vocal about this are the people who already hated Letterman's guts over the Palin feud this summer. But as far as his fans go, I doubt they get very worked up over it.
I know I'll still be tuning in.