When Joe Halderman approached David Letterman, allegedly threatening to share Dave’s dirty laundry if the comedian did not pay him $2 million, Letterman had a few choices.
- He could have done nothing.
- He could have paid up.
- He could have quietly tried to convince Halderman to stop doing what he was doing.
- Or, he could have done what he did – go to the police.
Mark Geragos, the publicity-loving criminal defence attorney, thinks Letterman made the wrong choice.
“You educate (the blackmailer) that what they’re doing is a crime. You handle this without getting involved in criminal prosecution; there are just no winners in a criminal prosecution,” Geragos, who has represented Chris Brown, Winona Ryder and Michael Jackson, told USA Today.
Geragos cites the firestorm now surrounding Letterman, including suggestions by Halderman’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, that he has evidence Letterman has sexually harassed women. Shargel has not provided any detail to support his statements.
Crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall disagreed with Geragos. “If you frame your adversary as a criminal before he gets a chance to define himself, it can be a wise calculated risk,” he told the paper. “You give your adversary a bigger problem than the one you have. If they are now running from the law, it taints the entire story line going forward. It becomes a story about crime, not a story about depravity.”
Letterman seemed a bit surprised about the extent of the media interest in the story, telling his audience Monday that he had not expected that his staff would be hounded, but also reiterated that he believes he is a victim of a crime.
Celebrities, and all blackmail victims, are obviously in a tough spot. One can potentially keep the secrets out of the spotlight if the threats are dealt with privately. But the risk with not going to the police is that the blackmail may never end — a man who is willing to ruin your life for money probably is not all that interested in sticking to a contract and, depending on the subject of the blackmail, the contract itself could be unenforceable.
Letterman may be regretting how thoroughly public this has become, but he might also take comfort in knowing Halderman will not be showing up at his door any time soon.
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