David Letterman Apolgizes Yet Again To Sarah Palin and Family

Although jokes about Bristol Palin, and even the other Palin children, are common place (as is demonstrated here) David Letterman has gone out of his way to attempt to diffuse the controversy by apologizing for jokes of his which were distorted by right wing attackers.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

Under fire for a risque joke last week, David Letterman has apologized to Gov. Sarah Palin and her supporters. But a group urging CBS to fire the host says it’s still not enough.

On CBS’ “Late Show” tonight, Letterman says he’s sorry about a monologue earlier this month in which he joked that New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez impregnated Palin’s daughter during a game. Letterman has said he intended the joke to be in reference to Palin’s 18-year-old daughter Bristol, but Gov. Palin actually attended the game with her 14-year-old daughter Willow. Some critics have accused Letterman of joking about statutory rape.

“I told a bad joke,” Letterman told viewers at an afternoon taping. “I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception.  And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke.  It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault.”

He concluded, “I’m sorry about it and I’ll try to do better in the future.”

The New York Times adds further information (but is off by a week–it only feels like it was well more than a week ago):

David Letterman directly apologized to Gov. Sarah Palin and her daughters on his program Monday night, saying he took responsibility for a joke that had offended Ms. Palin, her family, and her supporters.

Mr. Letterman opened the desk portion of his show with the apology in which he said he wanted to say he was sorry to “to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke.” Two weeks ago on his “Late Show” program on CBS, he had joked about Governor Palin attending a Yankee game with her daughter.

The joke, in which Mr. Letterman seemingly confused Willow, who is 14 and attended a Yankee game with Gov. Palin that week, with Bristol, who is 18 and an unwed mother, had to do with the Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez impregnating Ms. Palin’s daughter.

Last week Mr. Letterman somewhat defiantly said that there was a misperception going on and he would never make a sexually charged joke about a 14-year old. But he never expressly explained that he had inadvertently confused the two Palin daughters.

Monday he acknowledged that as the host of the program it was his responsibility to get the joke right. “I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception.”

He also insisted he was confused about the daughters. “I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Guiliani,” Mr. Letterman said. “I should have made the joke about Rudy.”

It is doubtful that this apology will make any difference with the Palin supporters who continued to smear Letterman after his first apology last week.  These attacks really have nothing to do with jokes about Palin’s daughters. Right wing bloggers began attacking Letterman for telling jokes about Sarah Palin after last Monday’s show and it wasn’t until later that they began distributing the fabrications that Letterman had told a joke about Willow Palin. Right wing supporters of Sarah Palin have been organizing to attack David Letterman for quite a while, as was noted in this post back in January.

Update: TV Week has the full transcript:

“All right, here – I’ve been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week – it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don’t know about it. But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There’s no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can’t be defended. The next day, people are outraged. They’re angry at me because they said, ‘How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?’ And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the Governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani…And I really should have made the joke about Rudy…” (audience applauds) “But I didn’t, and now people are getting angry and they’re saying, ‘Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who’s completely innocent, minding her own business,’ and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she’s now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I’m wondering, ‘Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?’ I’ve never made jokes like this as long as we’ve been on the air, 30 long years, and you can’t really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself.

“And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer ‘Newshour’ – this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy, now I’m beginning to understand what the problem is here. It’s the perception rather than the intent.’ It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not a very good joke. And I’m certainly – ” (audience applause) “- thank you. Well, my responsibility – I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault. That it was misunderstood.” (audience applauds) “Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the Governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I’m sorry about it and I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much.” (audience applause)

Anyone ever hear an apology such as this from people such as Rush Limbaugh, who has knowingly told jokes about children of Democrats who are under 18?

Palin supporters say they are continuing with their plans to protest outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater tomorrow. They can be recognized by their brown shirts.

Update 2: Among the best comments in the media on Letterman’s apology, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly writes, “Letterman’s bedrock decency has prevailed over what he must know is Palin’s bedrock opportunism in prolonging the controversy.”

Update 3: Sarah Palin Accepts David Letterman’s Second Apology

Update 4: Reuters reports that “more than a dozen protesters held up banners outside Letterman’s Times Square studio.”  Wow, more than a dozen despite all the promotion for the protest on right wing blogs. This further demonstrates that only a small number of far right wing kooks buy the attack s on Letterman.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    Len says:

    At some point in time Americans have to stop apologizing to Republicans. They destroyed this country and are now attacking Barack Obama and doing everything they can to prevent him from repairing the damage they caused. There was no misperception of the joke that David Letterman told. The Republicans knew full well that the joke was not about the younger Palin spawn. They saw an opportunity to pounce and they pounced and the really sad thing about it is that America is letting them get away with it. Again. I am extremely disappointed in Letterman for caving like this, though I am sure he is only following orders from his bosses at CBS. (The same people who caved when that truthful report about Bush Jr. being AWOL from the TANG was aired.) At some point somebody in this country is going to have to stand up to these treasonous bastards and say enough is enough. I am not holding my breath.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Letterman said more than was needed in apologizing but it is understandable why he did. For those of us who have watched the right wing in action there is no doubt that this was an intentional distortion. It is fine for us to talk about this on blogs, but I wouldn’t expect Letterman to get into this on his show. By apologizing, along with again pointing out that his joke was not about Bristol, he takes the high road and Republicans will continue to look petty when they continue to attack.

    The general public might not know everything the far right is up to, but they have figured out enough to reject the Republicans and vote them out of office since they were taken over by the extreme right wing.

    The reports claim he was not under orders to do this from CBS, but who knows for sure. I certainly lost a lot of respect for CBS with the way they handled the Dan Rather matter. There is a difference here. While Rather was 90% right in his story, he shouldn’t have used the questionable memo. As a news anchor, there is a higher standard for Dan Rather than for David Letterman. While I think it was unfair to throw away Rather’s entire career for being conned by one memo, it makes more sense to have a higher standard of accuracy for a news report than for the “facts” in one of Letterman’s jokes.

    I also wonder if CBS panicked with regards to Dan Rather, but after going through that better understands right wing smear campaigns and will be less likely to fall for that again.

    (I should add that while the memos were probably faked, this is still being battled by Rather, who claims they were legitimate. While they appear questionable, rare type writers have been found which could have typed those memos).

  3. 3
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “I am extremely disappointed in Letterman for caving like this, though I am sure he is only following orders from his bosses at CBS.”
    Yes, that’s exactly right.  It’s show business with an empathises on “business.”  DL made a mistake.  He didn’t know it at the time, but in the end, it was a mistake.
    There’s many ways to voice your opinion and many way to do it, but if you’re on the job doing it and you manage to offend a lot of people who are your potential customers, you’re going to get hauled onto the carpet.  It’s not political — it’s business, and DL simply was not doing his job that night.
    If you’re referring to Memogate (CBS-60 minutes TANG), that was another stupidity on the part of anti-Bush people, i.e., four documents were presented as authentic in a 60 Minutes Wednesday broadcast aired by CBS on September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, but it was later found that CBS had failed to authenticate the documents. Subsequently, several typewriter and typography experts concluded the documents are forgeries, as have some media sources.
    When GWB was president, I too was anti-Bush, but CBS had every cause to haul Rather onto the carpet.
    “America is letting them get away with it.”
    Wrong — “we’re” not letting anyone get away with anything.
    Look — here’s the rules: be honest, be accurate, and don’t get personal. In short — do your job. That’s what it means be professional in DL’s and Rather’s line of work. Seriously screw up on any one of those, and you’re in trouble — guaranteed.

  4. 4
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “While Rather was 90% right in his story, he shouldn’t have used the questionable memo. As a news anchor, there is a higher standard for Dan Rather than for David Letterman. While I think it was unfair to throw away Rather’s entire career for being conned by one memo”
    Yes, I agree: to zoom in on the meno and forget Rather’s larger career isn’t fair. And I suspect Rather had a falling out with the producers of CBS over this, so the ending of his CBS career was partly his choice, right or wrong.
    On the other hand, it was pretty serious mistake. We have to trust that Rather, entitled to his opinions and feelings, can keep them out of his job, and that incident made him look bias on the job. Suddenly everything he might say about GWB is suspect and tainted, whether it really is or not.
    It was only Rather’s prestige and history that kept him being summarily fired.
    Show business and network TV is one the toughest most competitive business to be in.  People not in the business have no real idea about how tough it is. Producers have absolutely zero tolerance for these types of mistakes and screw ups.

  5. 5
    Christoher Skyi says:

    Another good example is Isaiah Washington who was fired from Grey’s Anatomy. A small indiscristioin to most of us, but to producers, agents, and sponsers, it’s a big deal. And for very good reasons — the business is just far too tough, the bottom line is very VERY difficult to meet, so no one in their right minds is going  to put up with that type of behavior.  That’s the business. Outsiders don’t get this. Insiders, if they don’t know it, learn it the hard Hard way.

  6. 6
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “Palin supporters say they are continuing with their plans to protest outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater tomorrow. They can be recognized by their brown shirts.”
    Ron, if DL told a similar type of joke about the Obama’s, the exact same thing would be happening, except from the “left.” It’s human nature, esp. when DL was in the wrong.  It’s why producers and sponsors hate this sort of behavior from those who represent a show or product — it hurts the show and the product.  They have too many daily headaches as it is. They don’t need it. It’s that simple.

  7. 7
    Christoher Skyi says:

    Ah, DL get’s it:
    “(Shields) was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl,” Letterman said, “And I thought, ‘Oh, boy, now I’m beginning to understand what the problem is here.  It’s the perception rather than the intent.’  It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not a very good joke.”
    Ron, you’re exactly right the “Right-wing” has been conducting a smear campaign, i.e., accusing DL of doing way Way more than what he really did . . . but it doesn’t matter.
    The producers and sponsers, I’m sure, are symapthic in regards to the over-reaction of some on the right, but, in the end, they don’t care.  They can’t care, if they want to stay in business.  It draws fire they don’t need or want and they count on DL to NOT draw that kind of negative attention.
    In the end, I think DL has handled himself very well — he’s been accountable, he’s admitted the jokes should not been aired, and I think he really is sorry.    And the producers and sponsers, I’m sure, have been telling DL this controvery has got to be put to bed and left behind ASAP.  DL is doing everything he can to make this happen, and it’s not a mistake he’ll be making again.

  8. 8
    Athena Cota says:

    David Letterman Apolgizes Yet Again To Sarah Palin and Family … http://bit.ly/sIfyV

  9. 9
    Leslie Parsley says:

    There are several David Letterman groups on Facebook. One is called “David Letterman Must Die.”  Scary. All of this smacks of the McCarthy era. But back then CBS had courage and a sense of what’s fair when they stood behind Ed Murrow as he  brought that despicable man to his knees. Obviously they have lost their spine.

  10. 10
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “Obviously they have lost their spine.”
    They haven’t.  There’s been about a million jokes made about Palin, and there’s been no controversy.  DL’s jokes crossed a line in every one’s mind, include DL himself.  Far FAR more people were offended than anyone ever realized. It happens.’
    Like you and me, the producers and sponsor like having a good nights sleep, and stuff like this keeps them up, and then they wake up cranky.  They don’t need it and neither  does anyone who works for them, including DL.
    “David Letterman Must Die.”
    Producers and sponsors HATE this stuff.  They’re not mad at the facebook group. They’re mad at DL for doing something to attract this kind of negative attention.  Even DL knows this. That’s  why he’s bending over backwards to try to put this behind him.
    Network TV is the toughest businesses in the world.  People get fired all the time. If it gets bad enough, they wont’ hesitate to throw DL under the bus. The network knows it and DL knows it. While it’s extremely unlike it’ll get that bad, this is the truth of it.  They want and need DL to make this go away. That’s what he’s doing.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:


    Letterman’s jokes didn’t cross any line. If you look at the selection of jokes in the earlier post on the topic, Letterman has not done anything different. The difference here is that he’s a target of the right wing and they managed to spread a story that Letterman told a joke which was different from what he actually said. It even turns out that others have told jokes about the younger daughters, which Letterman did not do. That doesn’t excuse it–all are to some degree in the wrong–but it shows it makes no sense to solely be attacking Letterman unless those attacking have other motives. They have also made it clear even before this that the intent was to go after Letterman. This has absolutely nothing to so with what Letterman actually said.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    I’m glad you brought up Murrow. That is a far better comparison than Rather. While I dislike how CBS handled this, Rather probably did make a mistake. (I’ll allow him his day in court before definitely saying the memos were faked, but the burden of proof is now on him.)

    Standing up for Murrow is a far better comparison, especially considering the similarities between the McCarthyites and the current right wingers who are waging the fatwa against Letterman.

  13. 13
    Mike says:

    When a baseball pitcher those a pitch that ends up hitting a player, among other things, a pitcher’s reputation is a factor. As a pitcher of jokes, what is DL’s reputation about crossing the line with kids? I don’t believe he has ever been accused of such in a very long career. Another factor is a pitcher’s reaction afterwards, when does one who intended to bean a player ever go to immediately apologize? IMO DL has nothing else to apologize for, there was no intent for the joke to be “outside the strike zone” and if it was, he has already apologized and to nag or attack him any more is uncalled for. I have less sympathy for an “Imus” who is always either “painting the corner” or going outside with his pitchs.

  14. 14
    Ron Chusid says:

    The bottom line here is that Willow Palin would have never been involved in this if the right wing bloggers and then Sarah Palin hadn’t dragged her name into it. While one search here doesn’t mean very much, it offers a clue that Sarah Palin made a big mistake if she cares at all about her daughters.

    I’ve received many search engine hits on the Letterman/Palin controversy. From their wording it is obvious that many are taking a side, such as a search engine hit for “lettermanmustdie.” Many seem to be from people who are just trying to find out what the fuss is all about, such as “letterman joke palin.” Perhaps the most disturbing search engine hit is “is willow palin pregnant.” While David Letterman never mentioned Willow Palin in his jokes, spreading a message such as this is the result of the right wing dragging Willow’s name into this with their false claims that the joke was about Willow.

  15. 15
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “Letterman’s jokes didn’t cross any line.
    This is a subjective assessment, at least for these jokes, but the final arbiters are not us — it’s the Late Show fans, and that includes the right wing, i.e., anybody who could regularly watch the Late Show.
    If the producers and sponsors think the controversy will hurt them, then it crossed THEIR line. It’s a purely (show) business calculation.  That’s the metric, and, in the end, the only metric.
    The producers and sponsors probably agree with every position you’ve put forth here, but that doesn’t matter to them — it can’t. The sponsors talk to the board of directors and that board talks to the pproducers of the show who then talk to DL.
    The only line that matters, practically, capitalistically, is their line.  It seems like their line was crossed, a line drawn not by politics or personal feelings but by the bottom line.
    This is why the radical left really Really REALLY hates capitalism — because it doesn’t necessarily embody the values they uphold.  Religious conservatives hate capitalism for the same reason (i.e., drugs and porn, etc.).
    In the end, ya gotta deal with people. This is my biggest critisim of liberalism: it upholds a particular set of values over what the “market” values. Now, not everything is a market — see Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist for more about “markets,” social values, and why not everything is a market — but show business is a market, and the market rules.

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:

    The news reports (which may or may not be accurate) say the decision to apologize was Letterman’s and there was no pressure from CBS. While it is possible that they just decided it would look better to say this, my suspicions is that this is true. That is primarily because Letterman’s attackers are primarily people who have hated him all along and are not viewers of the show, plus Letterman is doing better in the polls than ever.

    The whole controversy will work to Letterman’s benefit as more people are turning in to see what is happening, and it is primarily a fringe element that thinks Letterman told a joke about a 14-year-old. Still there are some people who have heard the smears and believe them as most people will react negatively to the claims if they do not realize they are untrue. Therefore Letterman did the right thing to explan the situation on a couple of shows to minimize the risk that people outside of the right wing fringe will believe the smears.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    The controversy has helped Letterman’s ratings, and has also been good for my “ratings.”

  18. 18
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “While it is possible that they just decided it would look better to say this, my suspicions is that this is true.”
    Ah, you’d be wrong. Believe me.
    DL got himself into somewhat hot water — not deliberately or even stupidly. It just happened. But — DL has got to get the show out of that water.
    I guarantee you that is message is coming from the top. Network TV and show business fits the very definition of cut-throat business.  It’s the most competitive of businesses in one of the most competitive cities on the planet, NYC (show business is probably a close second to gun running and drugs (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point), and CBS can’t afford this — no network in this economy can.
    In the end, it’s not about DL or the jokes. It’s how they were taken. You’re exactly right — the right wing has way Way over-reacted.  But that fact doesn’t help CSB at all. They have to deal with the over reaction, and that’s the last thing they feeling like doing.
    NBC and ABC and all CBS’s competitors are watching very closely how this is going to play out, and while they all have sympathy for CBS, I’m sure, they’re also calculating “hummmm . . . any way to take advantage of this misstep?”
    “Show business is just like high school, except you get paid.”
    ~ Martin Mull
    “It’s not “show friends.” It’s show business.”
    ~ Bog Sugar

  19. 19
    Christoher Skyi says:

    More people are watching, true, but not because they like the show or DL. It’s because of the controversy.  This is what worries CBS, and it should worry them.
    It would be like if you publicly announced you were going to practice in the nude.  And then you did so and it got in the papers. That would attract a lot of attention to you, more people might start calling and shown up at your office for whatever reason,  but it would be a mistake think that the heightened interest has to do with people suddenly thinking this has something to do with your doctoring skills.
    Controversy is always risky for the networks — they don’t like it.

  20. 20
    Athena Cota says:

    David Letterman Apolgizes Yet Again To Sarah Palin and Family … http://bit.ly/sIfyV

  21. 21
    Christoher Skyi says:

    Yup, it’s starting to grow out of hand now:
    Embassy Suites Bails Out On CBS Because Of The Letterman Controversy
    New York Lawmaker Calls on CBS to Fire Letterman for Palin Comments
    It’s highly unlikely he’ll be fired — impossible, in fact, but . . .
    “Maybe the performer doesn’t want it to go away if it will mean higher ratings. But it has already reached the point where Letterman is playing with cultural fire. If advertisers start pulling away, he could be headed for the kind of trouble radio show host Don Imus encountered.
    And Palin did not sound like someone Friday who was ready to let the controversy go. She sounded like someone who feels as if for once she has the moral high ground and is enjoying the view.”
    The very best thing for DL to do now is just ignore Palin. He’s said and did everything any reasonable person could do and that speaks well of him.  He apologized and he really meant it. What the hell else is he suppose to do?  If Palin doesn’t drop it, she’ll look like a poor sport.

  22. 22
    Ron Chusid says:

    Many of the television reviewers think that Letterman’s jump in the ratings was more because of factors such as no longer going up against Leno and the quality of his guests, but also point to his handling of the controversy as a positive for him.

    Note that two of your links come from a far right wing blog and from Fox. The story plays to their readers/viewers but for most the controversy is backfiring, showing how ridiculous the far right has become. There have just been too many cases of this false outrage for most people to take them seriously anymore.

    The people who are upset about this are generally people who don’t even watch Letterman. Many people tend to watch shows like his intermittently. I’ll often go weeks between watching, but have been watching every week now. I think that much of his jump in ratings is that many intermittent viewers now see reason to turn in every day.

    Even if people are watching to see a freak show because o fthe controversy, if they do turn in they see the quality of Letterman’s show and his explanations of what really happened, which also work to his benefit.

    These stories are already such as a lawmaker calling on CBS to fire Letterman are already old news which began last week. Embassy Suites bailed out before yesterday’s apology. Most likely it was a quick response to an organized letter writing campaign, with a response given to appease the letter writers before knowing what is going on. Most likely they will quickly reconsider and continue whatever advertising they’ve had. Even if they should really cancel advertising  it won’t affect the bottom line.

    The one who is really getting hurt by this is Sarah Palin. On top of all the other jokes about her from the past, the new line on Palin is that if she is too dumb to understand Letterman’s joke (and think it was about Willow) she is too dumb to be president.

    Letterman can survive some controversy if it gives him material for jokes–and he really capitalized on it in his opening monologue. A politician such as Palin cannot do well when she is best known as the subject of jokes about how dumb and unqualified she is.

    As you said, it is hightly unlikey he will be fired. CBS could fire Rather as he was doing poorly in the ratings. They are not going to fire someone with Letterman’s ratings, knowing that they might have a tough time competing with The Tonight Show, regardless of host, without Letterman.

  23. 23
    Ted says:

    Letterman made an error in judgement on his joke.  It was in poor taste at best, mysoginistic at worst.  But he apologized, the story is over.  The people who want to continue to protest it are as wrong as the people who don’t want Letterman to apologize.  Maybe some civility from all sides will help.

  24. 24
    Anonymous says:

    You guys really live in a narrow cave. It’s time to step outside and see the sunshine. That we need a world where community protects young children and doesn’t make them the butt of jokes–be they conservative or liberal. You would stand taller if you strongly denounced Letterman for “pitching” a joke about a 14 or even and 18 year old getting knocked up at a baseball game. I’m sure you denounce Limbaugh as you should….but why do you excuse Letterman? Double standards at play that a thinking person so easily sees. Letterman did not make an error in judgement–he was just plain Mean–that is true. Leave the children out of coarse and difficult public discourse. I love those Obama kids and I did not vote for the man, but if anybody said anything nasty about them I would say WRONG! STOP. And I do mean any person liberal or conservative. My politics can subside in defense of our innocents. It seems like most on this blog cannot do the same but rather defend a disgusting older man joking about young girls being raped by older men.

  25. 25
    Izabelle says:

    Ron, as far as I’m concerned, now that Letterman has made at least a decent apology, it’s time to move on. And I would prefer to bury the hatchet with you, too. I don’t think Letterman is even remotely funny but I won’t spend any more time on the Palin joke after today.

    I do wonder about your handling of the matter. You continue to accuse anyone who thought that the default interpretation of Letterman’s joke was that he was referring to the 14 year old as automatically a far “right wing” smear merchant. You act like you know, as an undeniable fact, that there is no possibility the joke was directed at Willow. How would you know that, Ron? 

    Even NOW blasted Letterman for the joke.

    Your interpretation is the one that requires a couple of logical leaps. I’m not saying that Letterman’s explanation is not plausible, it is. But there’s a difference between plausibility and fact. At least Letterman now acknowledges why many folks might have thought that it was a statutory rape joke. Unless his apology included fictional material, it sounds like he was getting feedback from folks on the street in NYC who couldn’t have all been “right wingers.” 

    I’ll admit that, when I first came to this site, I immediately began to test you – since many left-wing bloggers advertise themselves as moderates, etc., but are really highly partisan. You claim to be a libertarian who supports free market principles and more limited government. Well, I engaged you on two “put your money where your mouth is” issues that theoretically should represent potential for common ground between your brand of liberalism and mine – transperancy/oversight and decency in the public square – and in both cases you took a hard partisan line, while accusing me of being a right wing partisan.        

    I’ll also admit that I used some debating tricks (although I never wrote anything that was hateful or untruthful) in these discussions, but you did put me on the defensive. 

    Anyway, you seem to have as much of an ax to grind on this issue as do the Palin backers and I wonder why that is.  


  26. 26
    Ron Chusid says:

    “but why do you excuse Letterman?”

    Nobody is excusing Letterman. Everyone agrees the joke about Bristol Palin was wrong–even Letterman has said that on the air now. However he was not joking about rape. If you are going to criticize him criticize him for what he actually said, as opposed to distorting his comments.

    The issue now is not the joke–it is an organized smear campaign against Letterman which began before the joke. Letterman’s joke was wrong, but it is not as bad as several other jokes form other comedians about Bristol, and even some which were about the younger kids as is shown here.

    Letterman’s joke was wrong, but that does not give reason to smear him with untrue claims he told a rape joke about a 14 year old or to single him out for something also done by many others.

  27. 27
    Dan K says:

    Finally… a voice of reason in all of this insanity.  Folks, its not about going after Letterman or making him pay… its about right and wrong.  I think even people who espouse moral relativism would say that his joke went beyond what society would consider to be reasonable.  That Letterman apologized is a testament to his class – it has nothing to do with him selling out.  I for one have a new faith in him.  I also believe that most conservatives will admit he did the right thing and let it drop.  I wish you all would do the same.

  28. 28
    Ron Chusid says:


    “Your interpretation is the one that requires a couple of logical leaps.”

    Not at all. It is the only interpretation which is consistent with both the facts and the interpretation of the one person who knows first hand what Letterman meant (Letterman himself). It is a known fact that Bristol Palin is the daughter who was pregnant and the daughter who Letterman and others have been telling pregnancy jokes about. To assume it was about Willow one would need to know that Letterman knew that Willow was at the game and that the joke was intended to be factual about the daughter actually there. As the news reports did not show Willow as being at the game and we only have Palin’s statement a couple days later that she was at the game as evidence, it makes sense that Letterman could not have known Willow was there.

    “it sounds like he was getting feedback from folks on the street in NYC who couldn’t have all been “right wingers.” ”

    This only means that the right wing smear campaign was having an effect. It doesn’t change the fact that Letterman was a target of a smear campaign being organized by Palin supporters and others on the far right which began before this joke and really has nothing to do with this particular joke.

    ” and in both cases you took a hard partisan line,”

    No, you responded by distorting what I was saying and by repeating talking points from right wing bloggers. I’m taking the line of opposing smear campaigns from extremists, whether from the far left or right. That is hardly a “hard partisan line.”

    “accusing me of being a right wing partisan.”
    When you twist what is being said to support right wing taking points and post here under different names to repeat right wing talking points that is the logical conclusion.

    “I’ll also admit that I used some debating tricks”
    You mean you distorted what I said rather than responding to what I actually said

    “although I never wrote anything that was hateful or untruthful”
    False on both counts

    “you seem to have as much of an ax to grind on this issue as do the Palin backers and I wonder why that is.”
    I oppose smear campaigns of this nature. I’m responding to this in a manner similar to how I’ve responded to the smears of the Swift Boat Liars and many other right wing smear campaigns. Such smear campaigns based upon distorting the facts, and often grossly distorting what someone said as with the Letterman joke (and in the past with the Kerry joke) are common tactics of the far right which need exposure.

  29. 29
    Vick Gower says:

    I am appalled that we think the joke was fine in context of Bristol. No joke from a high profile, well regarded, and well heard person like Letterman should involve demeaning a woman as in “slutty, flight attendant look”. Moreover its obscene to subsequently hear the daughter being called a slut too. What is most disheartening and pitiful is that some of us are so utterly prejudiced by our political leanings that we have abdicated our conscience and our moral sense. More than that and more appalling – we have lost our sense of decency. It was pretty obscene when Hillary was accused of pimping her daughter. And its disgusting to hear Bristol or Willow being so coarsely demeaned in front of millions of people. And those of us who are too blinded by our political affliliations to see this are frankly pathetic.
    The intellect and humanity of people who justify slander of a politician’s children because they appeared in campaign events stuns me. In a democracy such as ours, a politician’s family life is an issue regardless of whether a polictian wants it or not. Palin may not parade Bristol but her teen pregnancy will definitely be news. She may not publicly embrace her down syndrome afflicted baby but that baby will be in the public realm because of the abortion discussion. Politicians have therefore proactively taken to presenting their family to the public. So, at what point does presenting your family to the public become pimping them for votes? At what point does the pimping call for filthy, hate-filled, sexist abuses? 

  30. 30
    Brent says:

    Dan K:
    It is not about “right and wrong.” The attackers do not care about right or wrong. As Ron said, this is an organized smear campaign to get David Letterman which began before the joke.  His joke was nowhere as bad as many other jokes about the Palin daughters.
    He did the right thing and apologized due to the misunderstanding caused by the smear campaign but conservatives are not letting it drop. They will not let it drop because it has nothing to do with the joke and they just want an excuse to get Letterman. After the text of the second apology was released conservatives continued to find reasons to attack Letterman over this.

  31. 31
    Ron Chusid says:


    Nobody was saying the joke was fine in the context of Bristol. Even Letterman agrees it wasn’t. Conservatives are attacking without even paying attention to what is being said about this.

    Letterman was wrong for his joke, but before singling out Letterman for attack, take a look at these jokes from others.

  32. 32
    Rachell Gobet says:

    I am glad that mr. Letterman apologized..FINALLY!!
    However, I still will not watch his show ever again because hos apology took so long and was obviously forced out of him
    CBS owes the viewers am apology as well.
    Mr. Letterman is fortunate that Conan O’brian’s new show is simoly not funny.

  33. 33
    Ron Chusid says:


    Exactly. Any debate over the content of the joke or the apology totally misses the real issue. It is also naive to think that conservatives will be happy now that Letterman apologized (for the second time). In all previous right wing smear campaigns of this nature they continued their attacks regardless of what anyone said and regardless of the facts.

  34. 34
    Ron Chusid says:


    Took so long? Letterman apologized on Wednesday, as soon as he realized there was controversy over this.

    While there is no way to know for sure what happened behind the scenes, the media reports do say that there was no pressure from CBS.

    Conan will do fine too, regardless of whether Letterman continues to beat him in the ratings. There is plenty of room for two shows like this at the time, and Conan does have lots of younger fans. O’Brian’s humor is a lot more like Letterman’s than Leno’s which will change the complexion of the CBS vs. NBC battle from how it was in the past.

  35. 35
    Brent says:

    Both apologies were Letterman’s decision. Letterman has never given in to pressure in the past and there is no reason for him to do so. CBS has nothing to hold over Letterman. They won’t have a successful late night show without David Letterman. It is also not in Letterman’s nature to make jokes about a 14 year old. He has never done anything like that in 30 years and he is legitimately upset that some people think he has.

  36. 36
    pat says:

    Brent ,
    why cannot Letterman approch new dimension? After all he has his own “slut” of a wife to support. He only married her when his son started school. He should have waited 5 more years to make his jokes about Bristol jokes, if he did not want to look like a hypocrite.

  37. 37
    Ron Chusid says:

    Among the best comments in the media on Letterman’s apology, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly writes, “Letterman’s bedrock decency has prevailed over what he must know is Palin’s bedrock opportunism in prolonging the controversy.”

  38. 38
    Brent says:

    Letterman was making a joke he knew would get laughs, not engaging in social commentary with regards to unmarried mothers. There is also little comparision between an unmarried adult woman who is prepared to care for a child and a 17 year old. The bigger difference is that Bristol was shoved into the spotlight by her mother for political gain. If Bristol is going out in public to speak about teen abstinence she is going to get this type of attention.

  39. 39
    Dan K says:

    Brent, you can’t really believe what you just said to Pat that “The bigger difference is that Bristol was shoved into the spotlight by her mother for political gain.” I really abhor hyperbole on both sides, and this is clearly hyperbole. Can you really take a position that a pregnant unwed daughter of a presidential candidate would not be media fodder all by itself. At some point the family has to meet an onslaught head on with dignity and heads held high. Demagoguery only gets us more hostility. As much as either wings believe that their side is “right” no pun intended – just realize that 40-60% of the Amercian public disagrees with you. Reasonable people can come to agreement and compromise – I’m not preaching – I’m just sad that Americans have let it come to this.

  40. 40
    wtf says:

    Political correctness has gotten way out of control. Can’t people take a joke. Imus should have never been fired. Letterman didn’t need to apologize. Isiah Washington should not have been fired. There is a definite chilling effect regarding free speech. Yes people are tryting to limit racist and sexist speech, but as you can see with Imus and Letterman, even good intentions can go way too far. We have become a very sensitive people — too sensitive

  41. 41
    Vick Gower says:

    If  you could somehow free yourself of I-must-defend-what-conservatives-attack mindset you would see what is obvious. That Letterman’s defense – even now – (aside from the dutiful the-joke-was-in-and-of-itself-bad verbage) is all about people “misunderstanding” his “real intent”. Read his most recent apology – I have read it quite a few times. It’s farcical. What else would you call this: ” … but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18.” I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18! 
    Leterman is tortured over the fact that “It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception … my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception.” His intent, you know, of Bristol being the actual slut (not Willow). The alas-I-am-a-misunderstood-philosopher tone of martyrdom is, again, the real farce here. But this always happens, right? Such is the farce you devolve into when you have done something wrong and you have to apologize for it even though you just don’t get what you are apologizing for.

    Ron, let me tell you about liberal values as I see them. I am a Howard Dean liberal. Liberal values are – first and foremost – all about standing up against the demeaning treatment of those who have been long subject to all sorts of inequalities. Be it gays, people of color, women, minorities, etc. It’s not about the label – it’s about the principle. Of course, conservatives are playing politics with this but that doesn’t make Letterman a martyr. What he did was despicable and inexcusable, period. There’s nothing here beyond that.

  42. 42
    bw says:

    I think that wft’s comment touches on the important issue.

    People must be consistent in their outrage. If you wanted Imus fired, you have to want Letterman fired. If you want Letterman to stay on you should have felt the same way about Imus.

    If you feel differently about the two cases, you have to ask yourself why.

  43. 43
    Ron Chusid says:

    No Vick there is a lot more to it. If you follow the discussion of this in the conservative blogs this was a planned attack on Letterman which has nothing to do with the particular joke. Team Palin and others had been working on organizing a campaign against Letterman before this happened.

    Yes, read his apology. That is entirely consistent with all my posts on the topic. Letterman told the joke about Bristol, but conservatives latched on to this to claim it was about a 14 year old as that would sound worse.

    Perhaps his joke was despicable and inexcusable. If that is the case why is their such an attack directed at Letterman and not all the other comedians who told similar jokes about Bristol and even some about the younger daughters? Letterman’s joke was mild by comparison to some of the other jokes told, which doesn’t excuse his joke but does point out the contradictions in solely attacking Letterman over this.

  44. 44
    Ron Chusid says:


    And if you want Letterman fired, why not Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, and Seth Meyers who have all told jokes which were at least as bad, and some of which actually were about the younger daughter. It might be argued that there were some differences between Letterman and Imus, but the cases with the other late night comedians provide a far more direct comparison. Also, what about Rush Limbaugh who told jokes about Chelsey Clinton when age 13?

  45. 45
    pnkearns says:

    I am absolutely amazed by the double standards shown by liberal posters on this website.
    Sexist jokes were not funny in the office workplace during the 80’s – 90’s and today.  They are offensive.  They are sexist.  They are discriminatory.   A sexist joke on national TV is the same.  It doesn’t matter if the “joke” is about a 14 year old, a 18 year old or a 40 year old.  They are offensive.  They are sexist.  They are discriminatory.
    As for the Dan Rather comment.  You are given a pass to a “reporter” (someone who is to REPORT the news) that knowingly manufactures fake documents and knowingly makes false newscasts to a national audience to influence a national election?
    Sheesh…. what world do you liberals live in?   What the hell happened to your values?  Anything goes in your hate of the right…, right?

  46. 46
    Sog says:

    I am not a rightwinger but it is laughable to believe that David Letterman intended this joke be directed at the older Palin girl. People like David Letterman have a staff of paid writers and people who research his jokes in advance to ensure compliance with federal regulation and political correctness. He knew which daughter he was joking about but wanted to use the joke and made a calculated decision that he could fall back on plausible deniability if an uproar ensued. I have watched letterman since his first season on NBC. He used to be funnier than he is now because he has allowed politics to color every aspect of his humor but he is not dumb and he did not make this joke off the cuff. It was a written line that was heavily researched and planned. I dont believe he should be fired for it….but you cant deny that he would already be fired if had made the same joke about one of Obama’s girls or said that Obama’s wife is slutty. Its a one way road.

  47. 47
    Ron Chusid says:


    There’s no double standard. I haven’t seen anyone disagree in objecting to sexist jokes. That is not the issue.

    As for Dan Rather, there is absolutely no grounds to say he manufactured any fake documents. The documents were being passed around by someone else, who first tried to get the Kerry campaign to use them. Rather did not manufacture any documents. Kerry turned them down and they went on to try to get reporters such as Rather to publicize them. It has not been conclusively proven whether or not they were faked but they do look suspicious. The documents said the same thing as other evidence and Rather fell for them (assuming they were faked) but he did intentionally make any false newscasts. The facts in his story were all true and the controversial memos were not needed to support this.

    This is not about hate of the right. It is about getting the facts straight–both in the Letterman and the Rather issues. Getting the facts right is something you might have tried before commenting as you clearly misunderstand both controversies.

  48. 48
    Ron Chusid says:


    Research didn’t make any difference. The news accounts the day of the show did not state that Willow was at the game.

    Making a joke about the Obama girls is a poor comparison. The Obama girls are under 18. Letterman made it clear he checked to make sure Bristol was over 18 before telling the joke about her. The Obama girls have never been pregnant. Bristol has and, while it was in poor taste, it does make more sense to tell a pregnancy joke about her as opposed to the Obama girls. In addition Bristol has been going out in public talking about her pregnancy, including at a recent public event in New York. Right or wrong, going out in public like that does make be seen as fair game to the late night comedians.

1 2

2 Trackbacks

Leave a comment