"I owe them that," Letterman tells The New York Times of the network's decision to keep him on the air after the 2009 scandal broke

April 30, 2015 11:55 AM

As his 33-year-long tenure on late night comes to a close, David Letterman is feeling reflective.

Though he was candid about his sex scandal when it made headlines in 2009 after a blackmail attempt forced his hand, the late-night host has kept mum on the issue since.

In a revealing interview with The New York Times, Letterman, 68, was able to look at the scandal with some distance. “I think [CBS] would have had good reason to fire me,” he said, adding that he was “largely ignorant as to what, really, I had done.”

At the time, Letterman thought that he had simply been caught having “an intimate relationship with somebody he shouldn’t have had an intimate relationship. And I always said, ‘Well, who hasn’t?’ … But then, when I was able to see from the epicenter, the ripples, I thought, yeah, they could have fired me. But they didn’t. So I owe them that.”

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Letterman was blackmailed by former 48 Hours producer Joe Halderman in 2009, when he discovered the private diary of his girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt. Birkitt had been acting as Letterman’s personal assistant at the time, and the two were engaged in an affair.

Halderman demanded $2 million from Letterman in exchange for his silence. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office, however, in cooperation with Letterman, launched a sting operation that eventually led Halderman to plead guilty to a charge of attempted grand larceny in 2010. He received a 6-month jail sentence, followed by probation and mandatory community service.

Addressing the public’s surprise over Letterman addressing the scandal on The Late Show, the talk-show host told the Times that he didn’t really have another option: “I couldn’t think of a really good lie.”

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