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Letterman Case Challenges News Media

October 15, 2009
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

After a motion by the prosecutor in the Letterman blackmail case that asked for the contents of search warrants to be kept secret, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled that the warrants will be open to the public.

The only exception to the ruling is info relating to the identities of witnesses, which will were redacted.

The prosecutor Suzanne Vieux had filed a motion seeking to keep the contents of the warrants secret. She also tried to have Thursday’s court proceedings closed.

Media groups are happy because they wanted the material to be made public. Some were concerned that the relationship between Letterman and the prosecutor may have become a bit too cozy and may have influenced the decision to seek secrecy.

The newly released warrants speak about a mysterious “Client #1.”

The warrant contains a required affidavit, signed by New York Police Department detectives. The affidavit states that the police were searching for computers, disks, cassettes, tapes, etc.

But they were also seeking correspondence, screenplays and treatments dealing with “the demand for money in exchange for the non-disclosure of information pertaining to the personal and private lives of public figures.”

The warrant tells a story. Letterman's attorney received a package from CBS producer Robert J. Halderman on Sept. 9, 2009. The package contained a demand letter, a screenplay treatment, and other materials including copies of a portion of a diary.

The warrant speaks about a person referred to as “Client #1” who “feels alarm and concern about the impact of the disclosure of his personal information on his family life and career.”

The document states that Halderman wrote in a letter that “he needs to make a large chunk of money by selling Client #1 a screenplay treatment."

The warrant says that Halderman’s documents state that “Client #1's world is about to collapse as information about his private life is disclosed leading to a ruined reputation and severe damage to his career and family life." It says that the accused’s letter also states “Haldeman has a lot more documents . . . including more photos.”

The warrant states that Letterman's attorney met with CBS producer to talk about the form of payment. Halderman allegedly said he would write a book unless he got paid. The meeting was recorded. At that meeting, Halderman allegedly demanded the $2 million and was given a $2 million check.

In a strange new twist in the case, CBS News is digging up dirt on Halderman.

This can’t make Letterman feel real comfortable. If anything, the CBS late-night host wants the story to blow over quickly. Letterman’s major concern is that the story will focus on his extra-curricular activities rather than the alleged felony extortion attempt.

Staffers at "48 Hours" are also fuming that "CBS Evening News" correspondent, Armen Keteyian, and other investigative journalists at the network are scrutinizing this story. Halderman’s colleagues are concerned about being tagged with “guilt by association.”

But CBS News is in a no-win situation. If they let all the other news organizations cover the story while they take a pass, they will be viewed as not doing their job. And if they cover the story too aggressively, they will be viewed as being disloyal to their company.

Guess that’s what it meant when they said journalists must “speak truth to power.”

Even Hollywood actors are concerned about today’s news media.

George Clooney who portrayed a famed journalist Edward R. Murrow, and whose father was a journalist, spoke about the news media at the London Film Festival.

Clooney said news stories used to require "two reliable sources and that doesn't seem to exist as much anymore."

"The problem is that there's so little reporting any more,” Clooney said. “Somebody will write a story and it will be in 1,800 different outlets from one person's story.”

The subject came up because of a documentary debuting the festival titled, "Starsuckers." The makers of “Starsuckers” fed false tips to British newspapers and some ran the fake stories as legitimate news. The hoax tips even included a story about Amy Winehouse's beehive hairdo caught fire.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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