Recently, David Letterman has been leaning leftish. This is not particularly surprising as Letterman's Great Moments in Presidential Speeches were howlers during the 2008 election season. And his feud with Sarah Palin was the stuff of late-night and political folklore. But Letterman, a Hoosier, has always played it down the center. There was a consciousness, always, that some of his viewers at CBS -- a network which has, in the past, drawn an older viewership -- were probably right-of-center. The Letterman show, accordingly, had always been a zone as hospitable to Republicans as it was to Democrats.
The pendulum swings. Letterman now is openly going after the younger, more affluent and more ironic set. This is the sort of news, we cannot fail to note, that probably makes CBS' executives salivate. From Bill Carter's interesting New York Times article on the change in Letterman's show:
"'When he began in television, Letterman was virtually apolitical,' said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse. 'Now he’s moved to the point where he could be called a political comedian.'
"One reason may have been Mr. Letterman’s own unexpected role on the political stage in the last year. He had a famous contretemps during the presidential campaign with Mr. Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain, after he canceled an appearance at the last minute.
"Then, this spring, Mr. Letterman found himself in a war of words with Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee. 'I think when Letterman became a target of the right wing over Palin, it energized him politically,' said Alan Schroeder, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.
"Certainly, Mr. Letterman has not hesitated to hurl more comedy thunderbolts at subjects like Ms. Palin and former Vice President Dick Cheney. One longtime late-night production executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of associations with competing programs, said: 'Dave is wearing his views on his sleeve now. Is he going out on a limb? Why not? What’s he got to lose?'"
What's Dave got to lose indeed? Forgive us for being cynical, but this change -- noted in Carter's article, dated September 20th -- falls well within the period that David Letterman was in the thick of the extortion which began, as he told the nation last night, three weeks ago.
Of course we don't begrudge Letterman this strategic late night shift. Dave probably cannot do otherwise. Obviously such a revelation -- which had to be revealed in order to defang the extortionist -- was going to offend his older, more conservative viewers. And considering the tens of millions of dollars that Letterman -- a recent hit -- generates for the network, it was the smart thing to do. But it is a little disingenuous to present this change in the Letterman format to Bill Carter as occurring in a vacuum. Clearly, the extortion had something to do with it. As Robert George cleverly notes of Letterman's nemesis/Muse, "Sarah Palin must be smiling, and not just because her new book is already #1 on the bestseller list, before it's even been released."
Curiously, the news of the extortion comes at a time when Letterman finally beat his late night rival Conan O'Brien in the vaunted money demo -- 18-49. Will his more Progressive stance hurt him there? No? The youthful demographic was solidly Obama in 2008.