Letterman's Brilliant Crisis Management

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 2 2009 8:45 AM

Letterman's Brilliant Crisis Management

But what was it like to be in the studio audience yesterday at the Ed Sullivan Theater? One moment you were inhaling brisk fall air out on Broadway, and then, privy to a blackmail plot, you were witnessing a fat, juicy footnote to TV culture. At home, it seemed like the audience was negotiating some kind of acute stress response. The key moment sounded like this:

Dave: The creepy stuff was that I have [breath] had sex with women [beat] who work for me [beat] on this show.

Audience: [Awkward silence, as if thinking, "Is this joke? If so, is it at our expense?" and also imagining, "What does Dave look like having sex?"]

Dave: Now, my response to that is, Yes, I have

Audience: [Cathartic laughter and extended nervous applause, the latter all the more fascinating because the producers couldn't have been so indecent as to light an applause sign.]

Dave (speaking under the extended idiotic applause): I have had sex with women, and and would it be embarrassing if it were made public?

Audience: [Hearty titters.]

Dave: Perhaps it would. Perhaps it would especially for the women.

That last line was beautifully turned, a great release of tension, never mind that its dry heat curdled some of the laughter for it. Letterman is often best when, dying badly on stage, he turns his parched sarcasm back on himself. This was deadpan candor and ace crisis management. He had something to say, but this was not a confession. I notice that the first comment on Bill Carter's NYTimes.com report on this story was blurted out by an entity calling itself "tomb": "He did not even say he was sorry. Jerk." Say sorry to whom? To his public? Why do we deserve an apology? What does he owe us beyond a bit of entertainment at bedtime and something to talk about in the morning?

Click here to read more on David Letterman's confession.

/blogs/browbeat/2009/10/02/letterman_s_brilliant_crisis_management/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.