On Monday’s show David Letterman made jokes about Sarah Palin and made a joke about her pregnant daughter. The joke was clearly about Bristol Palin–the daughter who had been pregnant and had recently been in New York publically discussing the topic. (Actually the joke was even more about Alex Rodriguez and his antics with women, but we don’t see Rodriguez protesting the joke.) Right wingers have been spreading outright lies about what Letterman said, claiming the joke was both about rape and about Willow Palin when there is no basis for either claim. More on the topic here.
Sarah Palin, who apparently lacks the intelligence to realize that such right wing smears are not to believed (largely as she has been known to spread a few right wing smears of her own) has picked up this lie. While tonight’s show has not aired yet, Entertainment Weekly is reporting that David Letterman does respond:
Taping tonight’s episode of The Late Show, David Letterman took a few minutes to respond to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who called him “pathetic” in a radio interview after he made her and her family the butt of a recent Top 10 list. The late-night host had drawn particular fire from Palin and some pundits for a joke about one of Palin’s daughters being impregnated by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez during a trip to Yankee Stadium. Camp Palin apparently took the joke to be a crack against Palin’s 14-year-old daughter Willow, who had recently attended a Yankees game, but Letterman insisted today that the real target was 18-year-old daughter Bristol.
“We were, as we often do, making jokes about people in the news and we made some jokes about Sarah Palin and her daughter [Bristol]… and now they’re upset with me…” Letterman says on tonight’s show. “These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl…. Am I guilty of poor taste? Yes. Did I suggest that it was okay for her 14-year-old daughter to be having promiscuous sex? No.” Saying he hopes he’s “cleared part of this up,” Letterman extended an invitation to Palin to come on the show as a guest.
My bet is that those spreading the smear will continue to smear Letterman with their lies about what he has said as this is really not about any belief that Letterman had made jokes about a 14 year old girl. This is really about the desire of the authoritarian right to silence anyone who expresses opposing viewpoints. While Letterman’s jokes were not all in good taste, as he himself admits, late night comics have become a major source of dissent in this country as they mock the establishment, regardless of political party. The authoritarian right reflexively oppose any such questioning of right wing authority just as they opposed exposing how the Republicans lied us into a war and then committed war crimes against prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guitanimo Bay. Spreading lies as they are doing with David Letterman is a typical tactic of the authoritarian right as they wage their battles in this dishonest manner knowing that they have no arguments which can withstand either factual analysis or rational thought.
Update: Fortunately the show did not dwell on giving Palin an apology which she did not deserve as Dave did get in some more jokes at Palin’s expense during the monologue. He said he felt depressed about being called pathetic by Sarah Palin. To get over it he went out and spent $150,000 on clothes, and he does feel better now. He did express some concern about pissing off a hunter.
After returning from the monologue Letterman read the protests from both Todd and Sarah Palin and said he totally agreed with their condemnation of the types of jokes they described. Then he stated that “that’s not what I did” and proceeded to repeat the actual jokes he told–pointing out that it’s a joke, “that’s all its supposed to be.” He agreed the jokes were ugly and he regretted telling them, but there are thousands of jokes he’s told over the years that he regrets.
I suspect right wingers will be even more upset considering the frequent laughter and applause from the audience as he quoted the unwarranted attacks on him, repeated his actual jokes, and threw in a few new jokes. The funniest part was clearly that Palin and other conservatives were making such a big deal over a couple of jokes. All in all Letterman did a good job of responding to the attacks. He managed to both show respect for idea of not joking about a fourteen year old while showing well-deserved disrespect for the bogus attacks.
Update 2: In the end I expect both Letterman and Palin to benefit from all this publicity (and expect that Paliln will accept the offer to appear on the show). It may or may not have anything to do with the Palin jokes, but Late Night With David Letterman has moved into first place in the late night ratings.
Update 3: Replies tended to be of two types. Many attacked Letterman because of making a joke about Bristol Palin, often going on to talk about the virtues of Jay Leno, Conan O’Brian, or other comedians. While I would prefer that Bristol Palin not be a target of such comedians, the fact is that every one of them has made similar jokes about Bristol Palin. Jay Leno, Conan O’Brian, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson, along with Letterman, have all made jokes about Bristol Palin. It makes no sense to single out Letterman.
This is not really about him telling a joke about Bristol Palin. It is about a smear campaign from right wingers who were first angry because he told jokes about Sarah Palin, and then realized he had also told a joke about Bristol. Attacking him for making a joke about Bristol wouldn’t get much millage, so they invented the false claims that the joke was about rape and that it was about a younger daughter.
Many of the comments concentrated on personal attacks on David Letterman, with them typically being far more vicious than Letterman’s jokes. Such attacks (which have been deleted) hardly support any attempts to take the high ground against Letterman. It should also be remembered that Letterman’s jokes were just that, jokes, and not the types of personal attacks now coming from the right.
Update 4: Besides what I mentioned in the above update, there is one additional common attack being made on Letterman–claims that the joke is motivated by partisanship and that he wouldn’t make such a joke about a Democrat. These attacks most likely come from people who 1) don’t really watch the late night talk shows and know what types of jokes are common and 2) buy into the right wing meme of being persecuted.
Letterman regularly makes fun of politicians and people in the pubic eye regardless of party. It certainly is not, as some have claimed, a matter of attacking the children of people he disagrees with. Bristol Palin has become a common target of comedians because of the humor value, not for partisan reasons. Letterman also tells jokes about John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, and would have no qualms about telling jokes about a daughter of a Democrat in a similar situation. Letterman, like all the late night comics, thrive on jokes involving sex. Party does not matter here.
Update 5: Sarah Palin Jokes About Willow While Rejecting Letterman Offer
Update 6: Sarah Palin Continues To Drag Daughter Through Mud For Political Gain