David Letterman Is Truly Sorry

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: David Letterman speaks onstage during the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Barclays Center on April 7, 2017 in New York City. The broadcast will air on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 8:00 PM ET/PT on HBO. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

The #metoo movement has yielded far too many cowardly, unsatisfying apologies from men in entertainment, but comedy writer Nell Scovell managed to get a pretty satisfying one from David Letterman, her one-time boss.

Ten years ago, Scovell — who quit her job on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990 after just five months because of sexism and “sexual favoritism” — called out Letterman in a Vanity Fair piece, published following the revelation that he was cheating on his wife with various women who worked for him. Recently, she sat down with the newly chastened late night host on the condition that he finally read her 2009 piece, which he said he avoided at the time because he was working on repairing his marriage and his family.

Scovell finds Letterman to be kind and genuinely contrite. She accepts his apology, but notices he still has blind spots and isn’t willing to easily let him off the hook. How else will things sufficiently change?

Dave using his family as an excuse for neglecting his professional duties is a luxury no high-level female could ever afford. He faced no corporate punishment after his on-air disclosure. The network continued to pay him an estimated $30–$35 million a year while then CBS chairman Leslie Moonves looked the other way. I publicly accused Dave of fostering a hostile work environment, yet no one from the show’s human resources department ever contacted me as part of an investigation.

Dave wasn’t just a product of our culture; he helped create our culture. In the generation and a half that Dave reigned on TV, comedy could have made a giant leap toward greater representation. Instead, he fronted an institution that systematically amplified the voices of guys who looked like him. On camera, the show favored male standups over females by an overwhelming margin. Only one female comic was booked in 2011. This denial of equal opportunity is part of Dave’s legacy. Self-reflection can save a marriage, but it can’t change history.

Whoa, you’re thinking. Dave apologized. Why are you still so angry, Nell?

Dave still carries around his guilt and I still carry around my anger. Despite this, we can have a productive and even pleasant talk. There’s a faction in the #MeToo movement that believes “it’s time for men to shut up and listen.” Some men, like Matt Damon, have echoed this attitude. I get it, but it worries me. Too many men are panicking over the miniscule possibility of being falsely accused, and this irrational fear is causing male managers to avoid mentoring and meeting with female coworkers.

We need more dialogue so men can understand the difference between criticism and condemnation. And we need more dialogue so women can voice discomfort without fear of retaliation.

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