There was a time when I thought David Letterman was all that — funny, smart, poised, and a Midwesterner to boot. Of course there was a time when I was able to stay up late enough to watch him too. Both of those times have passed.
So while his recent revelation about extramarital interoffice escapades and $2 million extortion attempts captured a sliver of my attention, as I assume it did for many of you, it wasn’t like I was going to … well … stay up late or anything to make sure I kept up to speed on the scandal.
Still, when I found out that he had devoted ten full minutes or so (an eternity in TV time) sharing the tale with the millions who still watch him, I was fascinated, and as the full story of what he shared came to light, I was even more fascinated.
My reaction was, in part, due to the sheer audacity of what he was doing: addressing millions of people with that ersatz intimacy that only television can conjure up, confessing his deplorable behavior, outing the scoundrel who dared to try and hoodwink him.
But I was also fascinated because of what he was doing on the public relations front. I’ve long believed — and counseled others — in the value of getting out in front of a story. Why wait for it to break, then react? Take control of the message. Jump the gun. Even if it makes you look bad. At least you’re in control.
Letterman did exactly that. He moved first, and by moving first, he made his version the official version of the sad and sordid tale. Watch the video. Read the transcript. Listen to him work the crowd with the same kind of snarky, yet self-effacing, tone that has kept him afloat for decades. It worked.
But even if it worked from a public relations perspective, there was one way in which it fell far short of what it should have done. He never apologized. He never once said he was sorry. Not to his wife. Not to his son. Not to the women he took advantage of, and not to his fans.
Hey, Dave, are you there? As long as you want us to share some kind of intimacy with you, do you think maybe you could take a moment to acknowledge that your behavior was reprehensible? That you betrayed your wife? That you abused the women who work for you? That you gave your son a shameful example of what a husband and a father should be? Do you think you could take just a few seconds to say you’re sorry?
That’s something I’d stay up late for.