Why the Fuss Over Letterman?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What is all the fuss about David Letterman having fessed up to some creepy sexual relations with people who work on his program? Why are people actually raising the possibility that this will hurt his career? Look at Bill O'Reilly. Conservatives still cling to him as their hero even though he was accused of conduct far, far worse than anything to which Letterman has admitted. Remember that back in 2004, O'Reilly was accused of "quid pro quo sexual harassment" by Andrea Mackris who was a staff member of the O'Reilly Factor.

Mackris apparently had tape recorded harassing telephone calls from her boss. Talk about creepy. Imagine getting the following telephone call from your boss, after repeatedly telling him to stop.

"Well, if I took you down there then I'd want to take a shower with you right way, that would be the first thing I'd do...yeah, we'd check into the room, and we would order up some room service and uh and you'd definitely get two wines into you as quickly as I could get into you I would get 'em into you...maybe intravenously, get those glasses of wine into you...

[I would] kinda' rub your tummy a little bit with it, and then with my other hand I would start to massage your boobs, get your nipples really hard...'cuz I like that and you have really spectacular boobs...

So anyway I'd be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda' kissing your neck from behind...and then I would take the other hand with the falafel (sic) thing and I'd put it on your pussy but you'd have to do it really light, just kind of a tease business..."

When Mackris reminded O'Reilly that, "he had done the same thing to other women who worked on the 'O'Reilly Factor' and he should be careful or they might tell someone," O'Reilly threatened her, according to the complaint, with words to this effect:

"If any woman ever breathed a word I'll make her pay so dearly that she'll wish she'd never been born. I'll take her through the mud, bring up things in her life and make her so miserable that she'll be destroyed. And besides, she wouldn't be able to afford the lawyers I can or endure it financially as long as I can. And nobody would believe her, it'd be her word against mine and who are they going to believe? Me or some unstable woman making outrageous accusations. They'd see her as some psycho, someone unstable. Besides, I'd never make the mistake of picking unstable crazy girls like that."

He continued by warning her:

"If you cross FOX NEWS CHANNEL, it's not just me, it's [FOX President] Roger Ailes who will go after you. I'm the street guy out front making loud noises about the issue, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what's coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he's going to get a knock on his door and life as he's known in will change forever. That day will happen, trust me."

(Franken, of course, ended up being elected a United States senator.)

After apparently making what sure sounds like an extortionate threat, O'Reilly, according to the complaint, repeated his boasts that none of the employees that he had engaged in sexual relations with would ever tell:

"Nobody'd believe 'em...they wouldn't [tell] anyway. I can't imagine any of them ever doing that 'cuz I always made friends with women before I bedded them down...

In the course of his harassing conversations with her, O'Reilly also discussed his wife. According to the complaint, he told Mackris that his wife used a vibrator and said, "She would kill me if she knew I was telling you." He also described how he was "going to Italy to meet the Pope, that his pregnant wife was staying at home with his daughter, and implied he was looking forward to some extra-marital dalliances with the 'hot' Italian women."

The major difference between Letterman and O'Reilly is that Letterman did the right thing. He went to the authorities and then publicly acknowledged his misconduct and apologized. O'Reilly, on the other hand, first privately threatened his victim in an extortionate manner, then publicly accused her of a "multimillion dollar shakedown attempt," and then apparently bought her silence. By paying her off, he made sure the creepy and threatening sex tapes -- which could have ended his career if they had been played on radio and television, and made a permanent part of the internet -- were never heard by the public. He never fessed up to or apologized to the many women he sexually harassed or "bedded ... down." Yet he remains a hero of social and religious conservatives.

What then is the take-away message? Apparently it's better to pay up and shut up than to go to the authorities and tell the truth.