When something like the David Letterman story breaks, one of the interesting "meta" aspects is the range of tones people take as they react. In revealing his affairs and the subsequent alleged extortion attempt, Letterman was typically wry and humorous, while TV talking heads, Letterman's supporters, and his opponents have ranged from sober (discussing sexual harassment in the workplace) to somewhat hysterical (Dave should be thrown off TV, castrated, etc.).
Now we have a look at an exchange that eschews the sex jokes in favor of more serious issues: a letter from Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, to Rob Burnett, Letterman's longtime executive producer and President/CEO of his production company, Worldwide Pants, Inc. - as well as Burnett's reply to O'Neill. First, O'Neill's letter, which also went to CBS President/CEO Les Mooves:
As President of the National Organization for Women, I am requesting a meeting with you to discuss respect for women in the workplace and your company's obligation to strive for gender parity in decision-making at all levels within your organization.
In 2009, workplaces remain plagued by men in power sexualizing women. The behavior that David Letterman appears to have admitted publicly - engaging in a number of sexual relationships with subordinate staffers - sends a harmful message not only to his own employees but also to his millions of viewers, many of whom have seen similar antics first-hand in their own work lives. When a powerful boss like Mr. Letterman has sex with his subordinates it infects the work culture with uncertainty, gossip, and in some cases, hostility. The resulting toxic environment is unfair to everyone. All employees, women and men alike, want and deserve to be judged by their skills, qualifications and professional performance alone.
Your company can act responsibly, as corporate employeers and as a force in the media and culture, to create an environment where women and men are equally respected. But a real commitment to equality must start at the top. I urge you to look at your boards and other decision-making structures, at every level of your organizations. About 50% of the people with real power and authority should be women, and a high proportion should be people of color. I am eager to discuss with you how you might make your corporate cultures more inclusive and less abusive, and respectfully request a meeting at your earliest convenience.
I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Six days later, Burnett replied:
Thank you for your letter.
Since we started as a company in 1993, we have taken very seriously the issues you raise regarding respect for women in the workplace. And, as an employee of David Letterman's since 1985, I have personally found the work environment on his shows to be fair, professional and entirely merit-based at all times.
For the past nine years, at the highest level of the Late Show leadership, three of our four executive producers have been women, all of whom have worked for Dave for more than 25 years (in August we promoted a man to become our fifth executive producer). In addition, the heads of both our talent and production departments are women. Among Late Show staff, 58% are women, and all the major divisions on the show except one are led by women supervisors, all of whom have been with the company since its inception.
I would also point out that the admissions you cite that Dave made publicly did not stem from a complaint from anyone on our staff, but rather from an alleged attempt to commit a crime, extortion, against Dave, who decided to take the matter to law enforcement. Since that time, our human resources department has consulted every member of the Late Show staff, and not a single complaint has been raised or filed. Moreover, over the 29 years David Letterman has been broadcasting, there has never been a sexual harassment claim made against him.
I hope this information demonstrating our record of gender equity and sensitivity is responsive to the concerns you raised in your letter. Thank you again for writing.
Wow. We found both letters to be impressive - what do you think?