Page last updated at 19:48 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 20:48 UK

Man denies Letterman 'blackmail'

David Letterman breaks the news on his show, 1 Oct 2009
David Letterman revealed the alleged blackmail plot on his show

A man has pleaded not guilty to trying to blackmail chat show host David Letterman over sexual relationships he had with female staff members.

CBS employee Robert "Joe" Halderman, who was arrested on Thursday, appeared in court in New York.

Letterman confessed during a recording of his show, broadcast by CBS, that he had had sex with female colleagues.

He said a man had threatened to expose the relationships unless a payment of $2m (£1.2m) was made.

Letterman, 62, married long-term girlfriend Regina Lasko in March. They have a six-year-old son.

Mr Halderman, a producer for the real-life crime show 48 Hours, entered his plea as he appeared in court in Manhattan on a charge of attempted grand larceny.

Speaking earlier, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said that the offence, if proven, was punishable by a prison term of five to 15 years.

"Our concern here is extortion and that's what we're focusing on," he said.

Mr Halderman was arrested following an undercover police "sting" operation at a New York hotel, during which he was allegedly recorded setting out his blackmail demands to Letterman's lawyer.

'Terrible things'

Letterman told the studio audience of his Late Show on Thursday that he was first approached by the alleged blackmailer three weeks ago.

He said he had got in his car early one morning to find a package with a letter containing proof of the "terrible things" he was said to have done.

The letter, he said, was from a man who threatened to write a book and screenplay about the veteran broadcaster unless he was given money.

"I have had sex with women who work on this show," Letterman admitted, causing some confusion among audience members who appeared unsure whether he was delivering a comedy line.

On the advice of his lawyer, Letterman said, he had contacted prosecutors at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

"This morning I did something I've never done in my life," said the broadcaster on Thursday. "I had to go downtown and testify before a grand jury."

In his testimony he acknowledged he had conducted sexual relationships with members of his staff.

"I had to tell them all of the creepy things that I had done," he said.

He did not say when the relationships took place or how long they lasted.

David Letterman has presented The Late Show on CBS since 1993.

Prior to that he hosted a late-night talk show on rival network NBC.


While Letterman seems to be in no immediate risk of losing either his family or his job (ratings from last night's telecast will likely be stratospheric), his troubles may not be over. Having sex with people who were his employees or whom he managed could leave him, or CBS, open to a sexual-harassment lawsuit. It's certain the comedian has given the network's lawyers plenty of reasons to be up at night.

Time magazine's Belinda Luscombe wonders what the wider fallout may be for Letterman.

What we don't know, of course, is whether Letterman simply had consensual relations with a fellow grownup at a time when both were free agents or whether other factors were at play, like age or job description. We may never know, and frankly, it would be none of our business except that sometimes this stuff slips out and, okay, we love it when that happens. In any case, Dave's performance last night ensured extortion will not be the main story here.

The New York Daily News's David Hinckley thinks Letterman's sex life has become the chief focus of interest.

He's a famous, rich and, to some, charming man - the fact that he screwed staffers should raise serious ethical questions, like "Did he use his power and influence to take advantage of the women?" Even if he didn't do so intentionally, it's certainly possible that's the case and he's just as guilty as those he's lampooned. But perhaps we should give him some wiggle room here.'s Andrew Belonsky wonders if the public will see Letterman as victim or hypocrite.

I don't know where to begin with David Letterman's bizarro, play-it-for-laughs on-air admission that he had sex with staff members. On the one hand, good for him for telling a fairly unvarnished account of being blackmailed by a Connecticut man for $2 million and admitting to the "creepy things," as Dave kept putting it, the blackmailer was threatening to take public. On the other hand: Couldn't somebody have gone out between the first and second act and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Letterman is about to talk about something very difficult and though you might be tempted to laugh, please don't."

TV critic Aaron Barnhart, on his blog, finds Letterman's comic approach unnerving.

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