The David Letterman Scandal may have boosted his 2009 ratings, but it also opened up his very guarded private life to public scrutiny, showing a Clinton-ian caddishness with his staff, and a brave ability to face up to his actions. On October 1, 2009, “Late Night” host faced the camera and simply stated, “I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.” Over the next few weeks, the unfolding story of backstage affairs, an extortion plot, and a CBS news producer accused of the deed.
Letterman had always been that unusual celebrity. His only public gossip surrounded his rivalry with Jay Leno, and his tendency to poke at his corporate bosses, which suited his on-air curmudgeon style. The tabloids did cover the exploits of a woman stalker, later diagnosed as a schizophrenic, who would trespass on his property from time to time, or steal his Porsche. The story only showed Dave’s kinder side, as he often didn’t press criminal charges. He wasn’t found at A-list parties, he didn’t date starlets. Even Regis Philbin poked fun at his refusal to socialize with other stars on the show. By most accounts, he led a quiet, work-focused life.
Dave & Women
After an early marriage to Michele Cook ended in 1977, he was linked to Merrill Markoe, a writer and comedian. In the mid 80s, he began a relationship with Regina Lasko and they later had a son, Harry, in 2004. It wasn’t until March 2009 that Dave married Regina at a quiet Montana ceremony, just a few months before the extortion ploy unfolded.
The Bitter Boyfriend
Joe Halderman, a producer for CBS’ news show “48 Hours,” had more than his share of personal troubles: two divorces, expensive alimony payments, the sorrow of a child living thousands of miles away. In late 2008, he had made the questionable choice of reading his live-in girlfriend’s diary, and discovered she had been having a long term affair with her boss. She promised to end things, but a few months later, he witnessed that boss, David Letterman kissing his girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt. Soon thereafter, he delivered a “proposal” for a screenplay to Letterman that outlined evidence of “workplace sexual misconduct” and a request for $2 million dollars. For all his time covering true crime stories, Halderman didn’t suspect the sting operation that quickly landed him in the District Attorney’s hands. After an initial plea of not guilty upon being charged, and vague statements about there being more to the story, he agreed to a plea bargain that sent him to jail for six months on attempted grand larceny.
The Femme Friendly
Stephanie Birkitt, a wholesome, sporty blonde, became a CBS intern after college in 1996. Eventually she found a spot on the “Late Show,” first as an intern, then production assistant, then as Dave’s personal assistant. At the same time, she started making occasional appearances on the show, eventually performing in over 250 bits though 2008. Neither Letterman nor Birkitt have revealed any details about the length or extent of their affair, but stories indicate that it had been going on for several years. Birkitt and Halderman had been living together for several years, when he discovered the diary. At last report, she was on paid leave from Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company.
By breaking the story on his own show, in his own way, Dave earned praise (with a few smirks) rather than the usual scorn of sexual impropriety. Soon enough, that very Thanksgiving, Tiger Woods extramarital escapades would make Letterman’s indiscretions seem quite tame and dignified in comparison.