Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

The Madness of Robert Joe Halderman

There are any number of angles you could take on the sensational story of Robert Joe Halderman’s unsuccessful bid to extort $2 million from David Letterman. I was struck by Halderman’s astonishing madness, if he is guilty as charged, in thinking he would ever really get away with it.

In the Talmud’s tractate Sotah (3a), Reish Lakish expounds an ambiguity in the Biblical text as teaching, “A person does not commit a transgression unless a spirit of madness [or foolishness, shtut] enters him.” The source of the idea is Numbers 33:6, which refers to “Any man whose wife shall go astray” and commit adultery. In the original unvowelized text of the Hebrew Bible, the word for “go astray” can equally be read as “act foolishly.”
Isn’t this true in your own experience? Certainly in mine. When we do wrong, it’s often as if a certain rational faculty in us had been temporarily removed. You wonder afterward, “How could I have done that?”


I often think of the point when these crazy media scandals suddenly blow up out of nowhere and an eminent or not so eminent person is revealed to have done dastardly things, only to have got caught in the act. Halderman, a TV network producer, has got to have a brain in his head. The man is 51 years old. Yet this suspect reportedly agrees to meet in person with Letterman’s lawyer three times, accepts a check made out to himself for $2 million and goes along to deposit it at his local bank branch, apparently never suspecting he was being set up in a sting to be arrested, that the lawyer was wired, that police were listening, that the check would never clear.
Apart from the reprehensibility of blackmail, what about the sheer reckless madness of the whole thing?
I was also just listening to Michael Medved on the radio and he noted the Letterman audience’s bizarre response to the host’s on air confession: they laughed, as if being threatened and blackmailed, which could only be a terrifying and humiliating experience for Letterman, were all some kind of elaborate comedy gag. Whether he had it coming or not isn’t my concern. How could a group of people gathered in a TV studio laugh at someone else’s excruciating discomfort this way? It’s really an age of cruelty we live in.
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posted October 2, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Why did they laugh? 1. Many of the people were tourists who were there to have a good time – they were primed to laugh and had just sat though a funny monlogue. They may have been confused as to whether this was some sort of odd joke and perhaps they didn’t believe it. 2. He is just a funny guy – we are just used to laughing when he speaks and they may have laughed to comfort him in some way through his ordeal. He would be someone who would normally feel complimented when receiving laughter, however not in the case. It was a bizarre situation – sometimes people laugh when they are uncomfortable. I wouldn’t read a lot into the laughing. Especially, when he said “yes I did” (referring to the sex allegation) – the delivery on that line was just so matter of fact could imagine bursting out a chuckle. None of this is funny, but there’s no need to point fingers at the audience.

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posted October 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

A rebuttal to the poster above, David Letterman is of German decent and as far as we know he has no Jewish ancestry–despite what you may have surmised based on him being funny and having a name ending in -man. In the clip mentioned above, Dave actually mentioned his Lutheran faith.

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posted October 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

David – Outstanding article… “spirit of madness [or foolishness]” Yes, I like that very much. It is kind and lends itself easily to forgiveness. As for, “How could a group of people gathered in a TV studio laugh at someone else’s excruciating discomfort this way? It’s really an age of cruelty we live in.” I don’t think any of us can (in all honesty) look at the audiences reaction as “cruelty”…Marie, pointed out some viable explanations and there is also the fact that many people have been conditioned to not think before they act. People say and do Stupid things all the time and then look back and wonder, “What was I thinking!?” Anyway, thanks for a thought provoking read.

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posted October 3, 2009 at 10:27 pm

David was obviously trying to be funny and lighten the mood, which is why he interspersed dry humor throughout his confession. For all we know applause signs were turned on. Letterman is not my favorite person in the world, as he has exhibited some “shtut” himself, making crude jokes about a teenager and doing the nasty with staffers repeatedly (while married with a child). I pray he and his family get through this. Halderman may have made a calculated risk, figuring a measly $2 mil Letterman would be happy to part with to not put his family through hell. Not saying that it was too well thought out, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty. The gamble didn’t pay off and that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

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Brien Lee

posted October 5, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I’ve read many blogs and hundreds of responses about the Letterman / Halderman situation.
What’s most interesting is the responses, in that they are almost always framed through the eyes of assumption about missing facts.
Letterman is a Jew?
Letterman was married when he had these affairs?
Everyone involved was “consenting adults?”
And of course, “I’d never do anything like that.”
The age of cruelty you speak of is most demonstrated in blog comments. People will bend over backwards to shoehorn in a belief of theirs that is hardly relevant to the discussion. Listen to radio talkers on both sides for demonstrations of this.
Let he who throws the first stone be with shatterproof glass.

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posted October 6, 2009 at 5:21 am

I agree that the audience was probably somewhat confused as normally one is not expecting this kind of admission…. they would think it was part of some big joke, which would normally be the case. The laughter was not appropriate and would probably not have occurred in a normal setting. Also, watching Letterman deliver the monologue, it just was as in a normal funny joke, even though the words were serious it is just hard not to laugh when the guy speak. I think he could have done it in a more serious vane possibly.

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posted October 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

For “madness” substitute “denial.” People have a limitless capacity to lie to themselves.
When are you writing your ode to William Safire, a”h? It strikes me that you are his sole intellectual heir.

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