[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/02/am.intv.oneil.art.jpg caption="Tom O'Neil says Letterman's admission would not be damaging to his audience."]
David Letterman's dramatic admission on television that he had sex with staff members started with an uncomfortable moment when he said he was the victim of an extortion plot. His audience seemed to think he was joking but the case is no laughing matter. What does this mean for his image?
Tom O’Neil, senior editor of In Touch Weekly spoke with Christine Romans on CNN's "American Morning" Friday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Christine Romans: It was nine minutes of television, there was some laughing from the audience at, what I would say would be, inappropriate parts. Maybe they didn't realize that it was a real confession happening here. What do you make of what happened there on Letterman last night?
Tom O’Neil: It was done in typical Letterman style where we were all put ill at ease while watching this. Was he joking when he talked about the terrible creepy things he did? At first it didn’t seem that way it seemed as if he was really confessing to us, then he built this like a good comic act to crescendo and then you think maybe this is not a big deal. Look, David Letterman just got married in March. For 30 years he was a single man, if this was consensual sex with his co-workers, maybe that’s not so bad. But we also have to wonder, is it that terrible that it gets into areas of sexual harassment?
Romans: He mentioned there were women on the staff who he had sex with but he doesn't give anymore details than that. What do we know about David Letterman? He’s a reclusive, yes but he's also revealed a lot of himself on the air before. There was an extortion plot involving his son, he's had a stalker. He announced some concerns about his health before on the air. He's reclusive, yes, but he does share with his audience. This takes the cake, though.
O’Neil: This does. Because first of all, let's be honest. You don't think of David Letterman as a sexual object. But on the other hand, he's a classic bohemian. So it fits that profile. He's a rascal. If this happened to Jay Leno, it might be damaging but how much damaging is it with Letterman's audience? These are largely frat boys.
Romans: He makes a living making fun of other people. He makes a living making fun of other powerful men’s dalliances, poking fun of them. Did he diffuse anybody calling him hypocrite by him going out and trying to get ahead of it?
O’Neil: I think so. He handled it brilliantly last night. The question is now what happens next. He said in this monologue of his, it's up to the women to come forward and tell their stories if they want to. Well what if they do and what if it’s really embarrassing? The question I have is, when he told this story last night he described the scene of how it started, he got up one morning and there was a box in the backseat that he opened and the extortion begins there. And I want to know what was in that box because this was the evidence.