Ripped From Which Headline? "Blackmail"

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 18 2010 10:47 AM

Ripped From Which Headline? "Blackmail"

We all know that Law & Order rips its stories from the headlines—but which headlines? Every week, Brow Beat matches L&O 's plot points to the events that inspired them.

Jan. 15, 2010: "Blackmail"


These Are Their Stories
When freelance journalist Megan Carrick is murdered, Detectives Bernard and Lupo discover that she was investigating daytime TV host Vanessa Carville. The host had engaged in consensual affairs with several women on her show's staff, including Carrick. Suspicious, the detectives decide to question Carville. They find her mid-meeting with District Attorney Jack McCoy, explaining that someone is trying to blackmail her. A habitual early riser, she had gone to her car at 6 a.m. and discovered a packet full of incriminating photos, e-mails, and diary entries, along with a blackmail note. The detectives arrest the would-be blackmailer when he picks up a check from Carville. She later apologizes to her show's audience and tells them she has done "some pretty kinky things."

This Is the Real Story
In early October 2009, late-night TV host David Letterman shocked his studio audience by confessing to some " creepy things ," including a number of consensual affairs with female employees. Letterman had found a blackmail package in the back of his car when he went to make his customary early morning drive to the studio. He took the information to the district attorney, and the alleged blackmailer, Robert Joel Halderman, was arrested when he attempted to deposit the check Letterman gave him. Until shortly before the sting operation, Halderman was involved with Stephanie Birkitt, Letterman's one-time personal assistant and one of the women with whom he'd had an affair. According to Time , "Extracts from her diaries were reportedly in the package in Letterman's car."

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 



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