In a press release, NOW accuses Letterman of creating "a toxic environment" at Worldwide Pants, his production company, because "he is responsible for setting the tone for his entire workplace — and he did that with sex." Yes, that's right—David Letterman set the tone for his entire workplace by doing it with sex, whatever that means. And they demand that CBS "take action immediately to rectify this situation."
The release cites the heartbreaking case of the father of a 16-year-old daughter who called NOW looking for advice on what to tell her about Letterman:
The father raised his daughter to be a feminist. He raised her to stand up for herself. He raised her not be objectified as a sexual object. She admits she is confused because the messages she sees on television and news reports appear to make it okay to objectify women as long as the man in power is famous. He can crack a few jokes and publicly apologize for his mistakes. It is this kind of hypocrisy that perpetuates the image of men in power preying on women, while many look the other way.
Well, one thing he could tell her is this: When you grow up, sleep with precisely who you want to sleep with, and nobody else. But we guess that since David Letterman hasn't been fired—only publicly humiliated—she's going to have to sleep with any powerful man who comes along, now.
We agree that bosses shouldn't sleep with their assistants, and that it's—in the words of one noted wag—"creepy" when an international celebrity starts screwing around with someone in his employ who is decades younger than he is. It's crude, and selfish, and gross, because it takes advantage of youth and inexperience and star-struck awe. (Mostly our feelings on the matter are informed by the way we felt when seniors used to swoop in and date the freshman girls we liked in high school, and of course affairs of the heart are messy and unsuited to strident moralizing. But it's just, well, ungentlemanly to put your employees in that position, so to speak, and we always thought Dave was a gentleman.)
But is it an offense against feminist principles? We guess so, if it turns out that Letterman's bird-dogging turned Worldwide Pants into a sex-crazed hothouse where trapped women faced horrible decisions every day about what they were willing to do to get ahead, or to not get fired. Or if, in NOW's words, it created "an awkward, confusing and demoralizing situation." But we don't know yet if that's the case, and NOW's simple assertion that it was so doesn't actually make it so. As far as we know, the women involved were adults, and there are no accusations of untoward bargains or indecent proposals. Just gross, creepy, consensual sex. Letterman's wrongs here were moral and personal in nature, and NOW wants to cast them as political and possibly legal transgressions, and place the uncertain future of some 16-year-old who's "confused because the messages she sees on television and news reports appear to make it okay to objectify women" on his shoulders.
Maybe we're insufficiently conversant in some relevant threads of feminist theory, but is it just automatic now that when you sleep with someone who's in an unequal power relationship with you, you're treating them as a sexual object? Is it impossible to view an employee to whom you are sexually attracted as a subject, someone with their own needs and wants and autonomous desires, worthy of respect? Just asking, because there's no indication—yet—that Stephanie Birkitt or any other women involved were in any way objectified, ever, by anyone. Maybe Letterman just thought of them as pieces of ass. Or maybe he really liked them, a lot, and enjoyed spending time with them, and was interested in their lives, and wanted to sleep with them, and they let him. Creepy, yes. But not every sexual encounter is an object lesson in feminist dogma.
NOW is calling on CBS to "recognize that Letterman's behavior creates a toxic environment and to take action immediately to rectify this situation." We're not sure what action they're looking for—though it's obvious that publicly aplogizing for his mistakes isn't enough—but they're right when they say that "with just two women on CBS' Board of Directors, we're not holding our breath." Yeah, right—like Nancy Tellem, the president of the CBS Paramount Television Network Entertainment Group, who is responsible for CBS, would ever upset the Old Boys Network she oversees. When pigs fly!
No, the reason they shouldn't hold their breath is that, as Nikki Finke pointed out, Tellem's boss Les Moonves is now married to the employee he started fooling around with behind his ex-wife's back. We agree that Moonves should be fired, because he's an arrogant ass. But not Letterman. We like Letterman.
"I think what David Letterman said is terrible, is inappropriate and nobody should be making jokes about the sexual activities of teenagers, whether they are the daughters of politicians or not," said Kim Gandy, NOW president.
"Comedians in search of a laugh should really know better than to snicker about men having sex with teenage girls or young women half their age."
So there you have it, Dave. Not only can you not do it; you can't joke about it either.