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Video: Letterman: I was blackmailed over affairs

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    >>> in just a moment.

    >>> but we begin on this friday morning with the extortion plot targeting " late show " host david letterman and his confession that he had sex with female staffers. nbc's michael okwu has details.

    >> i have a little story that i would like to tell you and the home viewers as well. do you feel like a story?

    >> reporter: the late-night audience was primed. at first, clearly amused. but then not quite sure where the story was going.

    >> i get into my car, and in the back seat of my car is a package i don't recognize and have never seen before. and there's a letter in the package, and it says that "i know that you do some terrible, terrible things and i can prove that you do these terrible things," and sure enough, contained in the package was stuff to prove that i do terrible things.

    >> you heard a lot of laughter, but that was a lot of nervous laughter .

    >> reporter: a couple minutes in, perhaps as it was dawning on some folks this was no comedy bit, a bombshell.

    >> there seems to be quite a lot of terrible stuff he knows about and he's going to put it into a movie unless i give him some money.

    >> reporter: letterman said the man confronted him, demanding $2 million or he would reveal some potentially embarrassing information about the comic's sex life at cbs.

    >> and the creepy stuff was that i have had sex with women who work for me on this show. now, my response to this is, yes, i have. i have had sex with women who work on this show. and would it be embarrassing if it were made public? perhaps it would. perhaps it would, especially for the women.

    >> reporter: jokes aside, letterman said he went to authorities, who had him deliver a bogus check to the suspect, who cbsnews.com identified as robert joe paldeman.

    >> we do know that he's a producer on the news magazine "48 hours," which airs on the same network, cbs, so, he runs in the same circles, obviously, as dave and dave's staff.

    >> reporter: it's unclear when letterman had the affairs with his staffers. letterman married regina lasko, his girlfriend of 23 years, in march. the couple have a 5-year-old son harry. in 2004 , a house painter was nabbed for plotting to kidnap the comedian's son. before that, a stalker was repeatedly arrested for routinely breaking into letterman's estate before she committed suicide in 1998 . through the years, the 62-year-old comedian has made jokes about it all. but last night, letterman ended with a serious note of concern that perhaps this might be different.

    >> i feel like i need to protect these people. i need to certainly protect my family. i need to protect myself, hope to protect my job and the friends, everybody that has been very supportive through this, and i don't plan to say much more about this on this particular topic, so thank you for letting me.

    >> reporter: for "today," david oak you.

    >> good morning to you. letterman talks about finding this package in the car, opening it up and says indeed this guy seems to have a lot of terrible stuff that he knows about him. what would be in that package?

    >> we don't know, but it's clear that there was evidence, right? we know that it was something that made it very clear to david letterman that this guy could essentially prove that he's done terrible things, and the allegation is that that's why he's given it to letterman, to make sure he knows, i can release this. i can embarrass you. i can hurt you. and that's going to be a crucial question legally, right, which is the intent. meaning, in these types of cases, very often you see a defense which says, i didn't mean it that way. i didn't mean to suggest this was a quid pro quo . i just wanted him to know what i had. i just wanted to work with him on the project, whatever it is. those are the sorts of defenses we see in cases like this.

    >> is that why they set up the sting?

    >> absolutely. look, and that's why i think they wanted to make sure that there was this fake money that was actually --

    >> the $2 million check, bogus check.

    >> that's right, because then you don't face the problem later of, i didn't actually want the money. i just meant it theoretically. but now, the fact that there was actually this phony check written and that he actually received it, now the authorities can say, there was no ambiguity here. it's clear he wanted money for this and he was paid what he thought was money.

    >> the fact that letterman was part of the sting, is that unusual?

    >> no. extortion and these types of alleged crimes are very personal to the individual involved, and so, you kind of need them to play along. and look, they very quickly went to the d.a.'s office here. i mean, letterman goes to his lawyer, they figure out what they think is happening, very quickly bring in the d.a., and this all moves very quickly from there.

    >> was he smart to talk about it last night? a, he admits on air, yes, i have had sex with women on the show, and he also says i'm trying to protect my job. what are the legal ramifications, in terms of his job?

    >> see, it's interesting, because he's got both -- two things to think about. number one is the legal issues and number two is the fact that he's a public figure and that his reputation is very valuable to him. so, i think that he wanted to get out there as much as possible, and i think that's what people, when there is an effort to extort them, try to do. they say, look, here's everything that this person knows about me. here's what happened. so now this person doesn't have anything on me anymore. but as you point out, look, does this open him up to possible lawsuits in the future, et cetera ? who knows? who knows how these women feel about the relationships with david letterman . there's no sense, there's no allegation that anyone's upset at letterman. so, at this point, it doesn't seem it's opening him up to anything, but any time you get into these sort of sticky issues and you have to discuss these kind of uncomfortable matters, there's always in the back of your mind these days the questions of not just how's this going to affect me personally, not just how is this going to affect my family, but what could happen legally.

    >> and the story is just evolving. dan abrams , thanks very much. now let's go back

updated 10/2/2009 8:58:22 AM ET 2009-10-02T12:58:22

It was business as usual for David Letterman and CBS’ “Late Show.” The band played. The host, dapper as always in a well-tailored suit, recited his monologue; some jokes hit, some missed.

Then Letterman proceeded to take viewers, and television, on an extraordinary journey that was part confessional, part entertainment and wholly, if jarringly, hypnotic.

The medium has come close to moments like this before — Hugh Grant’s prostitute mea culpa on “Tonight” is the familiar example of recent years — but never achieved the merger of farce and drama that Letterman finessed.

“I’m glad you folks are here tonight,” he told his “Late Show” New York studio audience Thursday. “I’m glad you’re in such a pleasant mood, because I have a little story that I would like to tell you and the home viewers as well.”

“Do you feel like a story?” Letterman asked amiably, as if making sure a child was ready for a cozy bedtime tale.

The audience got much more than that from a man acknowledged to be a master of the art of broadcasting.

By turns raffish, somber, self-effacing, blunt and coyly, comically manipulative, Letterman wove a mystery tale of his own behavior and that of a CBS’ “48 Hours” employee arrested in an alleged multimillion-dollar extortion plot against him.

Letterman took his time — 10 minutes, a TV eternity these days for one topic — to slowly reel in viewers.

President Richard Nixon’s famed “Checkers” speech, so old-school in its clumsy sentiment as he fought to remain on the GOP ticket as vice president, had nothing on this.

Even the 21st-century pipelines that allow the famous to control their message, whether Twitter or Facebook or you name it, looked like amateur hour.

A letter in his car
Opening his tale, the 62-year-old Letterman said it all started with a letter and package left in his car.

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“I know that you do some terrible, terrible things and that I can prove you do some terrible things,” the letter warned, with proof enclosed, he recounted.

The audience, expecting the comedy that’s reliably delivered by Uncle Dave, played along. They laughed.

They laughed about the man who allegedly threatened to put this “terrible stuff” about Letterman’s life in a screenplay and a book. They laughed when he recalled the district attorney’s office telling him, “Hellooo, this is blackmail.”

The first break in the levity came when Letterman finally disclosed how much allegedly was demanded for silence, a princely $2 million. Real money, even for a well-paid late-night host.

“Oooooh,” breathed a respectful studio audience.

Letterman started to edge away from the light and into darkness. He feared being harmed, he said.

“I want to reiterate how terrifying this is,” he said, almost plaintively, a private man forced to bare his soul. “I’m motivated by nothing but guilt. I’m a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt.”

The audience, sensing its cue, applauded.

Slideshow: Night people He had them on the hook, ready to deliver the big plot twist that would wow them — or turn them against him. Viewers knew there was something “creepy” that Letterman had done, because he kept saying that was part of the goods someone had on him. Letterman, a careful wordsmith, repeated “creepy” enough to make sure it stuck.

Even a devoted fan could easily summon the specter of the most awful transgressions. Then Letterman dropped his bombshell: There were allegations that he had sex with women who worked for him.

Finally cowed by an unvarnished, unfunny remark, by the suggestion of improper behavior, the nasty whiff of sexual harassment in the workplace, the studio audience murmured uneasily.

Letterman made his final, brilliant move. He was honest.

“My response to that is, yes, I have. I have had sex with women who work on this show,” he said. Married since March to a girlfriend of many years, and the father of a son born in 2003, Letterman didn’t say when the encounters occurred.

Audience on his side
The comedian, who has mocked so many celebrities for such transgressions, suddenly was himself a target. But the audience was back on his side and erupting in applause and cheers.

Letterman moved gracefully into the role of victim.

He invoked his need to protect the women involved, his family and himself. He ended with — shades of Nixon — his hope that he can “protect his job.”

“Thank you for letting me bend your ears,” he said. Then, back to the business at hand with guest Woody Harrelson.

“Good to be here on this auspicious night,” the actor said with a sly but good-natured smile. All was well with “Late Show” and its host.

But what happens when the TV bubble bursts and people take another look?

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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