Letterman, Sextortion and Reputation

David Letterman's recent on-air admission of affairs with staffers, and the alleged blackmail plot by CBS producer Robert Halderman, have caused quite a stir. But when it comes to reputation, how will the scandal affect Letterman now and in the long run?

Though his actions may be morally questionable, Letterman so far has done a good job of managing the crisis. Rather than allowing the story to break and scrambling for a reaction, he was able to go on the offensive and make the announcement himself. In today's world of instant information, that kind of control is practically unheard of.

As the story remains a hot topic with the public, Letterman has displayed a relaxed, yet remorseful tone. Viewers can sense the sincerity, and so far, he's been rewarded with broad fan support. On-air apologies seem to have helped his case, and he has even been able to strike the perfect comedic pitch of self-deprecation. While keeping things light-hearted, he's also displayed a serious tone to communicate his regret.

Of course, scandal sells - the first episode after the controversy earned The Late Show a nearly 20 percent increase over the season average. The ratings indicate that fans won't be turning their backs on Letterman anytime soon.

The lesson for communicators, as we see time and time again, is that honest and forthcoming communication builds long-term trust and support. And if there's bad news looming, the best course of action is to take control, own up, and communicate what will be done to fix it. It will be interesting to follow this story, but for now, we expect little permanent damage to Letterman's reputation as an entertainer.

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