In 2009, as a sex scandal swirled around David Letterman, Nell Scovell authored a piece for Vanity Fair in which the onetime Late Show writer recalled leaving the show in the 1990s thanks to problems including, among other things, a "hostile work environment" in which most writers were white men. She was hoping Letterman would take her advice to hire some women or people of color, but he didn't even read the article. He did, however, recently agree to a sit-down to mark the article's 10th anniversary, and, at Scovell's request, he read it in advance of their interview. "I was happy to have read the piece because it wasn’t angering," he tells her in her new Vanity Fair article. "I felt horrible because who wants to be the guy that makes people unhappy to work where they’re working? I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not that guy now. I was that guy then."
An impressed Scovell writes, "It’s not often that you speak truth to power and power responds, 'Oops, sorry.'" But her piece isn't all roses. Though she applauds Letterman for, back in 2009, quickly copping to the sexual liaisons he'd had with female staffers rather than calling them liars, as well as for—in 2019—copping to his "sloppiness" in not hiring more women, she also calls him "oblivious" about what she terms "TV’s Golden Age of Ass Grabbing" and notes that he gave no indication he understood the importance of the "power differential" in workplace relationships of the sort he had with his subordinates, even if they were consensual. And then there's the double standards at play with regard to how he was treated after his scandal versus how a woman would have been treated. But ultimately, she writes, his willingness to talk to her is important, and more men should do the same: In the #MeToo era, rather than men taking the "shut up and listen" approach, she says, "we need more dialogue." (Read more Longform stories.)