David Letterman on extortion attempt: 'I felt menaced by this'
David Letterman found himself in an unusual role Thursday night: the one offering the television confessional, instead of hearing it. In an extraordinary 10-minute-long narrative, Letterman described for his audience a three-week-long ordeal in which a man – later identified as an employee of the CBS news program “48 Hours” – tried to extort $2 million from the comedian in exchange for not revealing sexual liaisons Letterman had with members of his staff.
Letterman said the man first left a package in the back seat of his car, threatening to go public with “terrible, terrible things” that the “Late Show” host has done. “I just want to reiterate how terrifying this moment is,” he said. “Because there’s something very insidious about, is he standing down there, is he hiding under the car? Am I going to get a tap on the shoulder? Because I’m motivated by nothing but guilt. If you know anything about me, I am just a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt.”
During a subsequent meeting with Letterman’s attorney, the man said he planned to write a screenplay about Letterman unless he coughed up $2 million. After contacting the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Letterman arranged to give the man a fake check.
“This whole thing has been quite scary,” he said. “I had to go downtown to testify before the grand jury and I had to tell them how I was disturbed by this. I was worried for myself, I was worried for my family. I felt menaced by this. And I had to tell them all of the creepy things that I have done.”
On Thursday afternoon, the man was arrested. The Manhattan district attorney’s office is set to hold a news conference about the matter this morning.
Letterman, who married his longtime girlfriend earlier this year, told his audience what the man had threatened to reveal: “The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who worked for me on this show.”
“Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would,” he said. “Especially for the women. But that’s a decision for them to make.… But what you don’t want is a guy saying, ‘I know you have sex with women so I would like $2 million or I’m going to make trouble for you.’”
“It’s been a very bizarre experience,” he concluded. “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.”
-- Matea Gold
This image rendered form video shows David Letterman as he tells his story during a taping of his late-night show Thursday Oct. 1, 2009 that he had sexual relationships with female employees and that someone tried to extort $2 million from him over the affairs, and CBS says an employee has been charged with attempted grand larceny in the case. (AP Photo / CBS)