On Line Discussion of the Letterman Controversy

Letterman Palin

I’ve already had many posts on the dispute between David Letterman and Sarah Palin, along with the smear campaign from the right against Letterman. With all the distortions of fact and attacks from the right, a lot of material has been discussed on this matter. The Washington Post has a discussion with Paul Farhi which summarizes much of the issue. Farhi began with an introduction:

Greetings, all, and welcome back again. So, the strange case of Palin v. Letterman appears to be resolved with Letterman’s very classy apology last night. I say “appears” because, based on my email, some people just won’t let it go. They insist, despite TWO on-air explanations, that Letterman really, really was aiming his crack at 14-year-old Willow Palin, not 18-year-old single mom Bristol Palin. I won’t defend the joke–even Letterman concedes it’s not defensible–but I got news for some of you: The joke makes no sense in reference to Willow. But I guess vendettas and political ax grinding know no logic, or even facts.

I do find this whole episode curious, primarily because of its timing. As I wrote in today’s paper (hey, I like quoting myself; at least I won’t be accused of a misquote), variations of this sort of “joke” have been around since Palin came to national prominence last summer at the Republican Convention. Yet dozens of both milder and harsher iterations (Saturday Night Live’s insinuation that Todd Palin raped his daughter is especially outrageous and revolting) were ignored by Palin, the Republican Party and the outraged types who are now venting in my email box. Sarah Palin even made a now-famous appearance on “SNL” just a few weeks after that skit aired. So what’s different this time? I don’t get it, either.

To answer his question, Farhi is right that there have been many other jokes about Bristol Palin with many being far worse than the one Letterman told, and later stated he regretted. Additional examples are here. Despite the attacks, Letterman has actually told far fewer jokes about Bristol Palin than other late night comics. The difference is that the far right is under the misconception that Letterman is promoting a liberal agenda and that he selectively makes jokes about Republicans. While he makes jokes about members of both parties, the right wingers who attack are not likely to watch his show and only hear about selective jokes he has told. The right has been targeting Letterman since well before last week’s jokes. This began during the campaign, and was also seen in reports such as this from earlier in the year.

The full story is worth reading as I can only touch on some of the questions here. Farhi responded to the view that Letterman should not have apologized as he did nothing wrong by noting how classy his apology was. Farhi noted that Palin was keeping an eye on the politics of this, comparing her attacks on Letterman to previous attacks on Hollywood by Dan Quayle, Joe Lieberman, and Bob Dole. A commenter pointed out that, “Perhaps the reason she didn’t condemn similar jokes from Leno or Conan was because she knew that targeting the network of Dan Rather would play well among conservatives.”

A commenter noted the timing of the second apology, not coming until Monday as Letterman tapes his Friday show on the preceding Monday. Farhi thought that the weekend interregnum was critical as it gave Letterman time to reflect on the whole mess.

There were comments on whether this would hurt or help Letterman. Farhi, along with most television columnists, believes that this has worked to his benefit, especially in light of Letterman’s increasing ratings over the past week. Farhi wrote that this is “probably going to be remembered as his ‘Hugh Grant’  moment–i.e., the thing that propelled him past his competition, for good.” He later responded to a claim that Letterman has jumped the shark by saying, “Whatever the opposite of  ‘jump-the-shark’  is, I think Letterman is there now.”

Farhi responded to a commenter who did not see the significance of other comedians having made worse jokes without receiving a response:

I won’t defend Letterman’s “joke.” Never have. But I think it’s fair to point out that the same joke got no reaction from Palin, or her supporters, just a few months ago. And, frankly, “Saturday Night Live’s” bit on this was much, much worse than Letterman’s. Not only was there no protest about it, she went on “SNL” a few weeks later. Sorry if these facts are inconvenient to you in your state of outrage, but they are facts.

Later when someone tried to claim that Letterman’s joke was worse than the one on SNL, Farhi replied, ‘The  ‘SNL’  skit directly insinuated that Todd Palin had an incestuous relationship with his daughters. I don’t know how you can get more vulgar and ugly than that.”

During the discussion it was noted that it is possible Palin  “may have been taking orders from the McCain campaign on media strategy” when she did not show similar outrage to the jokes on Saturday Night Live. Farhi later responded to another question on this topic:

I think the bigger-fish-to-fry theory has some validity here. If she had complained about it at the time, it would have been a huge distraction for the McCain campaign. On the other hand, she didn’t have to go on “SNL” if she had a problem with their jokes about her and her family.

Later someone argued that, “NO ONE — absolutely no one has the right to make crude remarks about teens that might have a lasting effect on them.” Farhi replied, “Fair enough. But is NBC (Conan, Leno, Saturday Night Live) and Comedy Central (Stewart) on the same list? Why single out CBS and Letterman?.”

Farhi commented on the misconception among conservatives that Letterman has been taking sides politically:

I’ve never thought of Letterman as a Democrat or a liberal–he just wailed on Bill Clinton and Hillary, and still does–but apparently this whole controversy tapped into some latent Dave-is-a-lousy-liberal wellspring among conservatives. Weird.

When someone said that Letterman has taken sides, Farhi responded, “More so than Stewart, Leno, Conan, etc.? Again, I’m not so sure about that.” Realistically the far right provides more material for comedians. It is also likely that intelligent, educated people will reject the agenda of the far right. While support for the two parties might normally be more even among television celebrities, it is not surprising that they would reject the Republicans now that they are under the control of far right extremists–as the majority of voters have.

Farhi responded to a comment that it didn’t matter which daughter the joke was aimed at:

Actually, it DOES matter, on some level. Again, I think the daughters should be off limits, but if anyone is going there, the only way that joke makes sense is in reference to the older daughter, who is, in fact, a single mother. People who keep insisting that it was about the “rape” of a 14-year-old–as Palin said last week–are just blatantly ignoring the facts.

Farhi resonded to a question about telling such a joke about the Obama girls by pointing out, ” If it had been about the Obama girls, it would not have made sense (neither has been pregnant).” In addition, Bristol Palin has been appearing in public speaking about her pregnancy, making her a more likely target, right or wrong, for jokes of this type.

A commenter speculated that  “I think the issue for Palin is CBS. Republicans have alleged for years that the network has a liberal bias. Palin may also be trying to pay back CBS for that embarrassing Katie Couric interview from last fall.” Farhi responded, “Maybe. But I saw nothing unfair about that interview. Those WERE her own words, weren’t they?”

Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that conservatives will continue to lash out against the media, often blaming the messenger when the facts work against them.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Lynnie says:

    This is a pretty funny take of the situation and busts the desperate radio talker who drummed up the stunt to get personal publicity:

    http://www.thewrap.com/blog-entry/letterman-vs-palin-winner-willow_3717

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