In an ideal world, bosses would refrain from sleeping with subordinates, so as not to cause jealousy and tension in the office. But we’re not in an ideal world. Otherwise, we’d already have health care for everyone and Glenn Beck wouldn’t have any influence over the White House.
After David Letterman acknowledged that he’d had flings with young assistants, some commentators talked about it in the same breath as Roman Polanski, who drugged and sodomized a 13-year-old. That’s outrageous.
Sexual harassment entails pressuring or penalizing a staffer or making the office atmosphere hostile. Despite the blustering of the attorney of the alleged execrable extortionist, Joe Halderman, there’s no evidence yet that Letterman was guilty of that.
People sometimes fuck people they've met at work. Unfortunately it simply isn't possible to decree that interns shall only fuck interns, assistants shall only fuck assistants, staffers shall only fuck staffers, managers shall only fuck managers, and the boss shall... well, the boss doesn't get to fuck anyone at work, ever. In an ideal world, like Dowd says, no one would fuck a subordinate. But real life is messier. So we have to judge workplace romances/dalliances on a case-by-case basis. The question isn't, "Did someone sleep with someone with less power?" but this slightly more complicated series of questions: "How was the affair conducted? Was the power imbalance exploited by the more powerful person—or, as is sometimes the case, was the power imbalance exploited by the less powerful person? Is there a pattern here? Pressure? Predation? Is this a hostile workplace environment?"
Two people can have consensual sex even in the face of a power imbalance. It infantilizes the less powerful person and makes a cartoon villain of the more powerful person to insist that mutual consent isn't possible.
And for the record: No, I've never fucked an intern or a staffer while working here. And I've never fucked anyone on Ann Lander's desk. And I've never made love in the sun. And I've never been to paradise. And I've never been to me.