AP Defends David Letterman Book Mocking Other Super-rich Montana Land Barons

AP television writer Frazier Moore reports David Letterman has a new book mocking the rich, illustrated by New Yorker contributing artist Bruce McCall. The artist’s daughter Amanda is a writer on Letterman’s staff.

The title is “This Land Is Made For You and Me (But Mostly Me)” with the “sassy subtitle” (so says AP) “Billionaires in the Wild.” Letterman’s mocking his fellow multi-millionaires for their real-estate excesses. (Perhaps they can rebut with a hilarious cartoon book about Letterman’s excesses having sex with female underlings on his staff.)  With “customary bluntness, McCall explained Letterman’s gripe to his daughter:

"One day she said to me, 'Dave has a ranch in Montana and he's sick of seeing all these nouveau riche egomaniacs build huge mansions and reroute rivers and cut down forests and otherwise blight the landscape, and he wanted to make fun of it. He thinks you'd be the right guy to visualize it.'"

Dave Letterman, Scourage of Rich Egomaniacs! That is unintentionally funny.

This is not an exercise in investigative journalism. It's just like The New Yorker, the rich mocking the rich in cartoon form:

Broadening its scope beyond just Montana's "billionaires in the wild," it goes global with dozens of imagined case histories, like the 23-year-old casino titan who buys an island in the Fijis, where he installs a nuclear power plant to furnish hot water to his Olympic-size Jacuzzi, and a "Bangalorean packaged-suttee mogul" who removes the craggy peak of Mount Everest and transports it to the roof of his ritzy Manhattan apartment house, with his valet posted at the summit to serve martinis to parched mountain-climbing guests.

Closer to home: the fire-insurance baron's mile-long fireplace in his Wyoming manse. Or the Montana hunting lodge whose vast living room serves, for added convenience, as an indoor landing strip for his private plane.

Moore acknowledges that this sounds like hypocrisy, but makes plenty of excuses for it since Letterman's been such a Republican-trashing treasure:

Granted, Letterman, who at 66 is a well-heeled TV star, might be accused of guilt-by-association with McCall's "brainless rich" as he mocks high rollers who turn unspoiled nature into a private Disneyland.

But when he discovered Montana more than 15 years ago and found it "stunning," he resolved to dodge the southwestern part of the state "where you have all your famous people. I said, 'I'm not gonna move out there if it's gonna turn into the Hamptons.'"

Instead, he staked his claim (he declines to specify the acreage) in the state's northern realm some 100 miles from the Canadian border, shunning amenities such as a swimming pool, hot tub, tennis court or indoor rifle range, he says.

"We have some buffalo, some horses, a lot of barbed wire and a lot of weeds. And wind!"

Also in his defense: Letterman became one of the McCall Cognoscenti back when he was still entrenched in the 99 percent, only subsequently soaring into 1 percent prosperity "because of good, dumb luck," he insists.


Letterman sounds his hearty, cadenced chuckle at the thought that his time in Montana has been spent undercover, collecting intel on those lavish interlopers.

"I couldn't have called them on it if I wasn't there to begin with," he reasons with a laugh. "You got to be there to see it!"

Frazier Moore failed to explain who was getting the royalties. If he’s making fun of billionaires, is Letterman donating his part of the proceeds to a worthy non-millionaire, or a soup kitchen, or a wildlife refuge? This is all Moore could reveal:

Now that "This Land" is out, will its satire strike a blow for saving the planet? Will it raise the public's consciousness about the writer-illustrator Letterman calls "revelatory"?

Any of that would be nice, Dave allows. But it was never his main goal.

“The idea of this book was just to get more Bruce McCall drawings created," he says. "So I succeeded there."

Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times wasn't a supportive sap like Frazier Moore, offering a little more skepticism to Letterman:

The idea of coaxing a new book out of Mr. McCall seemed like a violation to him. This is partly because, Mr. Letterman said, he regards Mr. McCall's satirical writing and illustrations as if they were sacred documents - "This guy is Mount Olympus," he said of Mr. McCall - and partly because he was not thinking of anyone's gratification but his own in pursuing the project.

"This was a totally selfish endeavor on my part," Mr. Letterman said.

In a telephone interview, Mr. McCall, 78, described himself and Mr. Letterman as kindred spirits who share "a certain skepticism about the nobility of the human race."

Mr. Letterman "still thinks of himself as being outside the mainstream," Mr. McCall said. "He really doesn't feel part of the wider world."

But Mr. Letterman is also a prosperous entertainer with annual earnings of $42 million, according to Forbes. In addition to an estate in Westchester County, N.Y., he owns a Montana ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front, where he goes to relax and fret about the excesses of other zillionaires....

Mr. McCall said he did not see any hypocrisy in someone as well off as Mr. Letterman taking comedic aim at issues of financial inequity and wealth distribution. “George Soros is a liberal, too,” he said. “You don’t have to be stupid and poor to be a liberal.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis