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Interpretations of the Letterman apologies

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 7, 2009 12:31 PM

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David Letterman

We have seen no shortage of apologies for sexual misconduct of every sort from public figures recently; parsing the semiotics of these public statements has become a subfield of opinion journalism (months later, the theatrical mea culpas spawn academic papers and books, too: remember this one?) . The Globe's Joanna Weiss's ambivalent reaction to David Letterman's two-part (so far) apology more or less captures my own.

Over at Slate's Brow Beat, Josh Levin and John Swansburg also say things I agree with, both about the interderminacy regarding how much irony the host is deploying at any given moment and about what appears to be structural sexism within the late-night TV fraternity. The writers are all men, Letterman's "special assistants" all comely women. Swansburg: "Here's one way to atone for your hinky behavior, Dave: Put your eye for female talent to better use"--i.e., hire some women writers.

But what's up with Gawker, supposed arbiter of the metropolitan-cool reaction to media events like this one? The consensus there seems to be that you would have to be repressed or naive about the ways of the world to have qualms about a powerful boss who repeatedly selects his sexual partners from the small pool of people who work for him:

Scandalous Evidence Mounts: Letterman Had Human Emotions, Relationships (The lead: "Will David Letterman ever live down the shame of being the first American to sleep with someone at work?")

Letterman Scandal Shock: Fling Caused Love Letters, Anger

The Gawker comments section is not usually a repository of earnestness, but one female commenter has a problem with the idea that only tabloids or scolds might object to Letterman's behavior:

Darling, we women of (ahem) a certain age have some perspective on the situation that apparently escapes you. Screwing the boss to get ahead seems like a great strategy in your 20s and 30s. Believe me, I've seen both men and women do it.

But it has a depressingly bad effect on the rest of the workforce, who must constantly deal with the side effects .… Resentment builds, as hard-working people begin to suspect that their own careers are lagooned while sweetie-of-the-month gets the good assignments, promotions and undivided boss attention.

Look, it's difficult enough to traverse the emotional terrain when two colleagues are romancin'. When it's the boss-man (and it usually IS a man), that terrain is littered with landmines, son.

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4 comments so far...
  1. This adds nothing. Looks as though the Thinker has mined this, and except for but another riff, albeit from a thinking direction (e.g., reasonably more words than a tabloid), come up empty-handed. Now, if it had ended with what it appeared to be leading to, something like, "Ms. DeGeneres, CBS is on the line...," the Thinker might have thrown something into the discourse that would have engendered new discussion about whatever remains. (This comment about nothing obviously is nothing of the sort.) And the Thinker might have been the optimal bloguer to do so. Alas, punted. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Posted by FirewindII October 8, 09 10:11 AM
  1. He´s an animal who makes fun of the whole world. Now It´s his turn. Should be fired. Has no talent nor has he morals. Get him out.

    Posted by bill October 8, 09 11:02 AM
  1. I think it is absolutely obnoxious that your news has nothing better to report on. Why would you spend so much time on airing someone's dirty laundry or unacceptable behavior? We've had enough of Dave Letterman, Brittany Spears, etc., etc. Can't you find anything good to report on. This type of reporting is definitely contributing to the dumbing down of America. I would hope that you would have a responsibility to report and show better news. I think it's time to teach our children what is acceptable. This isn't news....it's unacceptable gossip. Couldn't your news program be an example by reporting something that contains values. thank you.

    Posted by T Webster October 8, 09 12:47 PM
  1. "structural sexism" - the only real structural sexism is what male students are exposed to on college campus today...

    Posted by pj1 October 8, 09 08:23 PM
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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