I realize it’s a little late in the day to start taking kicks at David Letterman. The guy’s been seriously unfunny since Reagan went senile and Nancy and Frank were running the country. I’m not sure anybody without Freedom 55 even watches his show anymore, but I saw a couple of recent Top 10 Lists on YouTube. It’s really obvious he’s been doing this schtick for a lotta years. He’s gotten Old Man Mean besides, in that nasty “Oh, yeah! I was funny before you were born” way. Actually, the only reason he even comes to mind is that Comedy Central just gave him an award. It’s the Johnny Carson something-or-other award for excellence. You can’t see the show until next month, though, because Comedy Central taped it early to give everybody an opportunity to swear. The thing is if Letterman were in any other business, he wouldn’t be getting any awards at all. In fact, he’d have been booted — long since — for sexual harassment. You know the story, so I won’t repeat it here, but if you don’t, just think scuzzy and Google it. The point is, in our society, big-ass birds aren’t supposed to use their power and influence to coax young females into sexual dalliances – especially when those women work for them. It’s a major no-no! I can’t imagine an insurance salesman, for example, getting an award for excellence after admitting he’d had sex with a couple of female interns from a local college. It doesn’t wash. Letterman got away with it because he’s not the kinda guy you want to cross too many times, and, of course, he followed a unique contemporary tradition. It goes like this: do whatever the hell you want. When you get caught, confess and apologize, and that makes it all better.
I’m not sure when this tradition started, but it really got going after Reverend Jimmy Swaggart was caught trying to convert a local prostitute in a New Orleans motel room in 1988. After initially denying that he been wrestling with her and the devil at the Travel Inn, he finally admitted it and apologized. His famous “I Have Sinned” speech looks a little over-the-top these days, but it worked. Swaggart was back in business in a couple of Sundays. Since then, we’ve been treated to an ever-expanding list of public figures who, guilty as a puppy sitting beside a pile of poo, have employed this technique to good advantage. The surprising thing is that, even after two decades of overuse, it still works.
I’m sure there’s a whole chapter devoted to “the confession” in the Public Relations Handbook. However, it’s really a very simple five part program. So if you ever find yourself in a compromising position, here’s what to do:
1) Once you get caught, admit it. Whatever you did, don’t deny it, because that only makes it worse. Call a press conference, or find a friendly talk show host. Get in there, and plead guilty.
2) Never explain. You need to be as vague as possible throughout the entire process. Use words like “poor judgement” and “unusual circumstances.” Don’t be tricked into giving away too many facts because gossip writers have ways of tracking down infinitely more embarrassing stuff from a few unrelated details. Remember: reporters are lazy, and if they think they already have a story, they’re not going to go digging around to find one. Try not to take any unscripted questions, and don’t set the stage for any further investigation.
3) Show remorse. Say you’re sorry. Apologize to everybody in sight, up to and including your friends, your fans and your mom. Tears have become a joke lately, so unless you killed somebody limit the waterworks to something tasteful. For example, Kate Moss suggested a tear that didn’t even smear her mascara. Sometimes, it’s good to have the injured party, notably your wife, stand up there with you (but never, never, never any kids.) This might cost you a bit, but it’s worth it. Kobe had to spring for a million dollar ring, and nobody knows what kind of coin Jim McGreevey had to shell out. But whatever you do don’t let the wife talk. (Look what happened to Bill Clinton.)
4) If possible, find a disease, and seek help. Alcoholism is a good one. So is stress. But make sure it can’t be medically verified. Tiger got away with sex addiction, whatever the hell that means. Once again, be as vague as possible. If you can’t find a disease, seek spiritual guidance. In the old days, guys like Chuck Colson had to actually get born again. These days, a couple of weeks in a monastery or some therapy is good enough. And always publicly seek the support of the people who love you.
5) Never speak of it again. A good line is: “I’ve already hurt the people I love enough, so I won’t be making any further statements.” This is the most important point of all. Basically, you just have to outlast the tabloids because, invariably, somebody else is going to do something just as stupid and you’ll be off the radar.
As the circle of celebrity continues to roll deeper and deeper into moral bankruptcy, I have the feeling they’ve hit rock bottom and now they’ve started to dig. Eventually, we’re going to need an International “I’m Sorry Day” just to try and save the last shreds of polite behaviour from extinction. It will be a kind of Ethical Earth Day when we gather all our public personalities together, make them look sad and hear their confessions. At least, then, we won’t be subjected to these continual lame self admonishments that insults everybody’s intelligence.
Here’s the bottom line. If anybody at Comedy Central thought sexual harassment in the workplace was morally wrong, David Letterman wouldn’t have been honoured. If anybody at CBS thought it was morally wrong, he wouldn’t have a job. Finally, if he thought it was morally wrong he wouldn’t have done it. You don’t need a Top 10 List of reasons to figure that one out.