David Letterman

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What was the accusation?

In 2009, Late Show host David Letterman found himself embroiled in an extortion scheme that threatened to expose his past liaisons with former female staffers unless he paid $2 million in hush money. In collaboration with his attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Letterman was able to identify and stop his extortionist. Letterman later recounted the whole incident, including the damaging details of past sexual relations with female staffers, to his Late Show audience. In apparent response to news media inquiries following his televised confession, Letterman took to the airwaves again to clarify the situation and publicly apologize to those people affected by his initial disclosure and past behavior. 

Key Apologia Strategies:

Differentiation, Good Intentions, Transcendence



Last week on the show, I told a little story about being blackmailed. And I wasn’t going to talk about it anymore, but it seems like people want to talk about it. And when you’re blackmailed, it’s a crime and you’re a victim. It’s felony extortion is what it is. And it’s a nasty thing to do to people. Now, being a victim, and if you happen to your behavior is responsible for hurting people, that’s a separate part of the equation. And it did not occur to me last week when I was discussing having had sex with women who worked on this show that then what would happen is reporters and newspaper people and radio and TV would start pounding the staff and saying, ˜Well, what do you say? Are you, and this and that?’ It was very, very unpleasant, and I would just like to set the record straight. No, I’m not having sex with these women. Those episodes are in the past, so my apologies to subjecting them to that vulnerability and being brow-beaten and humiliated. It never occurred to me. [Side conversation with counterpart.] I’ll just say I’m terribly sorry I put the staff in that position inadvertently. I just wasn’t thinking ahead. And moreover, the staff here has been wonderfully supportive to me, not just through this furor, but through all the years that we’ve been on television and especially all the years here at CBS, so again, my thanks to the staff for, once again, putting up with something stupid I’ve gotten myself involved in. Now the other thing is my wife Regina. She has been horribly hurt by my behavior. And when something happens like that, if you hurt a person and it’s your responsibility, you try to fix it. And at that point, there’s only two things that can happen: either you’re going to make some progress and get it fixed or you’re going to fall short and perhaps not get it fixed. So let me tell you folks, I got my work cut out for me. But through all of this, you have to say to yourself, What really happened? And what really happened was you can’t be victimized by criminals, so you have to go ahead and push back if you’re being pushed by something illegal like this. And through all of the heartache and the attention and the embarrassment, I still feel like I did the right thing. And now, also, because what can it hurt, once again, I’d like to apologize to the former governor of Alaska. Sarah Palin, I’m terribly, terribly sorry. So there we go.    


James, M.S., & Goldwert, L. (2009, October 8). David Letterman reveals extortion plot and confesses to sex with staffers. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/david-letterman-admits-sexual-affairs-staffers-details-extortion/story?id=8728424

Tauber, M. (2009, October 19). Letterman sex scandal: ˜I’m terribly sorry.’ People. Retrieved from http://people.com/archive/letterman-sex-scandal-im-terribly-sorry-vol-72-no-16/

Women’s group blasts Letterman over sexual affairs with staff. (2009, October 8). CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/TV/10/07/letterman.now/