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The Joke's On Letterman After On-air Confession

So a late-night talk show host, married and a dad, walks on stage and admits to workplace hanky-panky. The punchline? He has long reveled in mocking politicians for their sexual trespasses.

David Letterman, he of the mischievous grin and wicked wit, is now in the same boat as the elected officials whose misadventures gave him such rich comic fodder for his "Late Show" on CBS.

The Clinton White House years were especially rewarding. A 1998 Top 10 list of nicknames from Monica Lewinsky included, at No. 8, "The Chief Sexecutive" and, at No. 6, "My Sweet Impeachable You."

For Letterman, Bill Clinton was the gift that kept on giving even after he left office.

"Today, Monica Lewinsky is 28," he joked in 2001. "It seemed like just yesterday she was crawling around on the floor in the Oval Office."

Or this from 2002: "President Clinton has gotten himself a new dog. ... He's teaching the dog to sit up, to beg, to roll over _ you know, just like he did with the interns."

Ouch. Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Larry Craig came in for their share of abuse, as did the governor of South Carolina. "Gov. Mark Sanford didn't really enjoy this year's Fourth of July. He left his favorite firecracker in Argentina," Letterman wisecracked.

Now, a few of those unfortunate pols might be gleefully replaying Letterman's "Late Show" account Thursday of becoming an alleged extortion target because of his affairs with women working on the show.

On Friday, CBS News employee Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, a producer for the true-crime show "48 Hours," pleaded not guilty to trying to blackmail Letterman for $2 million over the office affairs.

Karmic payback, the politicians may be musing, can be tough.

Not that Letterman falls into quite the same category of unfaithful officials who hypocritically spouted family values. After all, comedy _ not moral guidance _ is Letterman's aim. And he is not facing re-election, though he did briefly fret on the air about keeping his job.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who had a run-in with Letterman over jokes made at the expense of her teenage daughter, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on his admissions. But visitors to Palin's Facebook page did not hold back.

One Palin supporter who posted under the name Linda Aragona wrote: "Amen! God said you will reap what you sow. Letterman tried to destroy Sarah personally and professionally. Looks like that wagging finger was turned right back on him. Who's laughing now Dave?!!!"

Others posting on the page called for Letterman to be fired.

That Letterman is caught in troubled waters isn't entirely a surprise: He has long been seen as the quintessentially dark, self-doubting funnyman who turns his demons into laughter.

Although Letterman's staffers admire his high standards, his "post-mortems for each show could be witheringly negative. Letterman wouldn't beat up the staff; he would beat up himself, pointing out spots where he could have filled in a slow moment if he had only been quicker with a line," according to William J. Carter's 1994 book "The Late Shift."

Letterman once scribbled the message "I hate myself" to guest Teri Garr during a commercial break while the band played loudly, Carter reported in his chronicle of the Letterman-Jay Leno battle for NBC's "Tonight Show." When Garr protested, Letterman took the note back and underlined the phrase twice, Carter wrote.

In his early years on the comedy-club circuit, where the gregarious Leno made friends with one and all, Letterman was aloof and would pal around with very few, according to Richard Zoglin's 2008 book "Comedy at the Edge."

"While Leno brimmed with self-confidence and bonhomie, Letterman was brooding and ruthlessly self-critical," Zoglin wrote.

Letterman's offstage life has been marked by a series of disturbing events.

A house painter who once worked for Letterman was arreted in 2005 for allegedly plotting to kidnap the host's then 16-month-old son, Harry, and a nanny and hold them for a $5 million ransom. The man was sentenced to prison on a lesser offense as part of a plea bargain.

Over several years, a woman was arrested repeatedly on trespassing and other charges for stalking Letterman and spent time in prison and a state mental hospital. She died in 1998.

In his on-air confession Thursday night, the famously private celebrity, who married longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko in March, did not say when the office affairs occurred. But, his comic reflexes intact, he couldn't help but mock the guy involved.

"I know what you're saying," he told viewers. "`I'll be darned. Dave had sex.'"


Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.


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