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David Letterman: Surviving a Scandal

The ''Late Show'' host is using self-deprecating humor to win back his fans' respect

David Letterman doesn't know it, but he's already earned the forgiveness of a 60-year-old tourist named Lynn Hernandez. When the Dunsmuir, Calif., woman heard about his televised confession of his workplace affairs, she felt an immediate sympathy for the Late Show host, and on Oct. 5, during her New York vacation, she proudly stood in line to see his show. ''I feel sorry for people who are in the public eye. They don't really have a private life,'' said Hernandez, waiting outside the Ed Sullivan Theater. ''I always felt respect for him, and the way he's handled it so far...with a sense of humor, it's actually raised my opinion of him.''

At the taping, Letterman continued to work on regaining the audience's trust, offering a sincere apology to his wife, Regina Lasko, and his staff for ''putting up with something stupid I've gotten myself involved in.'' According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, that ''something stupid'' came to light after Robert ''Joe'' Halderman, a 51-year-old producer at CBS' newsmagazine 48 Hours Mystery, threatened to expose Letterman's sexual trysts with employees — including one with ex-assistant Stephanie Birkitt, now 34, whom Halderman had been involved with as well — if the comedian didn't fork over $2 million. Letterman reported the alleged extortion attempt to the DA, who closed in on Halderman, a divorced father of two, when — according to the DA's office — he attempted to cash a bogus check from Letterman's attorney. Indicted on one count of attempted grand larceny in the first degree (punishable by up to 15 years in prison), Halderman pled not guilty on Oct. 2, and is next due in court on Nov. 11.

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