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.

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  1. 1
    Christoher Skyi says:

    Sarah Palin Accepts David Letterman’s Apology for ‘Coarse’ Jokes:
    “Letterman certainly has the right to ‘joke’ about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction,” Palin said.
    OK — I think this is over now. We can all go back to our regular viewing.   Who won the fight?  Well, I think both did, i.e., DL’s motivations were grossly mis-represented by the right (which nobody, other than the right-wing believes, so I don’t think there was any real damage, at least not long term, to DL’s reputation) and Palin and her supporters had a genuine beef, which DL sincerely addressed.
    Nobody is breathing  a bigger sigh of relief  than the producers and sponsors.
    We”ll see now if right-wing groups, which clearly used this incident as an opportunity to grind their political axe, will drop this. Beyond the obvious and legitimate criticisms of DL’s jokes, the more extreme claims made about DL’s motivations and “true” intent simply had no basis in reality.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    Palin is a smart politician. She realizes she has milked this for all it is worth. So far the right wing groups are planning to continue with their protests. That’s no surprise–they have been planning attacks on Letterman for quite a while. They just saw last week’s jokes as an opportunity to move ahead. They also probably realize that Letterman is unlikely to give them any ammunition in the near future so if they want to continue to attack Letterman they have to stick with this.

  3. 3
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “So far the right wing groups are planning to continue with their protests.”
    The very best thing for DL to do is just ignore them & Palin —  no jokes, no comments, nothing.  As hard as they might be to do,  it’s actually the thing they would hate most, i.e., to be ignored.

    “Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I‘m not gonna be ignored, Dan!
    ~ Alex Forrest (“Fatal Attraction”)

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    “and Palin and her supporters had a genuine beef, which DL sincerely addressed.”

    There was a legitimate beef with regards to jokes about Bristol and sexist jokes. This very well may reduce both of these in the future. However I also think that Palin reduced the victory she could have had if she had responded honestly. If she had criticized Letterman for the joke about Bristol, without repeating the nonsense that it was about Willow, and conceded that this is just one in a long string of jokes from many comedians which were wrong, her beef would have sounded even more genuine. If she approached it like that virtually everyone, left and right, would have sided with her on it. Instead, by overreacting and distorting the facts, it became another polarizing issue.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    He will comment, but not in a way that looks nasty towards others. It will be more like the jokes in the monologue last night, which were more at his own expense while still using the situation to get laughs.

  6. 6
    Tom Williams says:

    I heard the joke on the night Letterman told it. I immediately reacted with concern that this might be picked up as an issue. Letterman has been clearly left leaning in his jokes and statements. That sets him up for reaction, calls for an apology or his firing, etc. You just cannot joke about young daughters of a politician, really about anybody’s daughter, in this way. It was just too crude. This does not excuse the lynch mob mentality of the right wingers who just need only a drop of blood in the water to go into a feeding frenzy. The man has apologized, it was sincere from all appearances. It is over. I am sure he will be cautious in the future. Regarding the slutty flight attendant look of Palin (another of Letterman’s jokes), I do not see anything wrong with that.  Certainly, that joke was no more offensive than the Monica Lewinshy, Bill Clinton or Eliot Spitzer jokes.  Palin and the others are public figures. Jokes  or comments about their looks may be in bad taste but they are not off limits in today’s entertainment mores.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    I continue to have mixed reaction to the slutty flight attendant joke. On the one hand it certainly was sexist. On the other hand it is hard to get shocked when a comedian such as Letterman tells a joke such as that. Last Monday night/Tuesday morning the right wing outrage was actually over the slutty flight attendant joke. They were trying to make a big deal over that, but this didn’t get much traction. It wasn’t until later that they figured out how to twist the Bristol Palin joke to claim it was a rape joke about a 14-year-old. While he also shouldn’t have told a joke about Bristol, it sounds far worse the way it was twisted.

    He certainly will be more careful in the future.

  8. 8
    BillyC says:

    YOu people really do need some help.

    N.O.W. has also condemned Letterman’s comments on Palin and her daughter(s). (Much silence from the left and press on this for some mysterious reason.)

    So, why are you lofty Letterman defenders not simlultaneously attacking N.O.W. for all the same reasons that you are attacking Palin, etal.? After all, N.O.W. and Palin are in agreement on the Letterman crude remarks.

  9. 9
    b-psycho says:

    He DID use the modifyer “slutty”, so as to not include all flight attendants…;)

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:


    There’s been no silence from the left. The comments from NOW are old news and were discussed last week. They are only marginally relevant to the discussion here. They say Letterman’s comments were sexist. Everyone here agrees about that. That’s not what this is about. They aren’t distorting what Letterman said. NOW isn’t being selective in their outrage. They criticize lots of people for sexist comments–and made a point of noting the sexism from the right in their statement last week.

  11. 11
    mike says:

    What I believe is getting conservatives riled up is the frequency in which female conservatives are denegrated into something less. This comes on the heels of the Playboy “hate fu*k” article. There were also those bumper stickers during the election that said “She’s not a women, she’s a republican”. I think conservatives are tired of people attacking women and minorities as traitors to their race/sex. Powell, Thomas, Estrada, et have all been characterized as somehow odd for being minorities and being conservative and now women are undergoing this same characterization. I don’t think this incident in itself was bad, it was just the straw that broke the camels back. The Playboy article was far worse. Anyways, what does it say about America where a man can make jokes about underage girls and sex? Even if he ment the elder Palin the joke is still crude. I don’t think much of men who ridicule little girls.  

  12. 12
    BillyC says:

    Ron,Ron, Ron…

    “…selective in their outrage….”????

    Leterman’s crude comments were directed squarely at Palin’s daughter(s).

    Who exactly did you expect Palin to defend?

    Come on.

  13. 13
    iubica says:

    It was classy of David Letterman to do the right thing and apologize.

  14. 14
    Ron Chusid says:


    The Playboy article was certainly far worse–I had a post here condemning it. The Letterman jokes and the Playboy item weren’t in the same league.

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:


    Selective because Letterman has actually told far less jokes about Palin’s daughter than the other late night comedians. Others have also told jokes about Palin’s younger daughter while Letterman did not.

  16. 16
    Anonymous says:

    Standard liberal double standards at work here. Same with the murders of the abortionist and the military recruiters. All the media play for the abortionist being murdered by a media declared “right wing extremist”. Virtually nothing on the murder of the miliary recruiters by the converted Muslim extremist. To a conservative like myself, both were reprehensible murders and the reasons behind it were important. To the liberal media, the abortionist murder was more important and the religion of the recruiters’ murderer being Muslim was not relevant.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    There is no double standard. The media covered violence from both groups and most condemned both.

    Rather than a double standard, many conservatives wear blinders and see criticism of only conservatives everywhere, and love playing the part of a victim.

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:


    Flight attendants do have grounds to complain about being compared to Sarah Palin and I’m not certain that that modifier will satisfy their legitimate complaint here.  🙂

  19. 19
    BillyC says:

    It was up to Letterman and his writers to make sure they got their Bristol VS Willow facts right before going off the deep end on the “knocked up” comment — especially the “knoced up” comments.

    (Note: calling Letterman’s comments a “joke” somehow sends out the same nasty sound as fingernails on a blackboard.)

    Letterman then falling back on the “Oops, I didn’t mean THAT daughter is weak and lame.”
    It’s OK if the daughter is 18? Don’t think so.

    Note on the Letterman writers: they obviously have been running on empty for a bit, eh?

  20. 20
    Ron Chusid says:

    There was no reason for them to see this as an issue before they wrote the joke. The news reports did not say that Willow was at the game. Letterman’s writers were used to jokes about Bristol Palin and just fit one into the baseball game. This certainly was a joke, despite right wing paranoia that Letterman’s goal is to get them as opposed to putting on a show.

    It might not be ok if the daughter is 18 but why jump on Letterman alone over this when the other late night comedians have told far more jokes about Bristol Palin than he has?

  21. 21
    BillyC says:

    Any of the “jokes” you refer to told by other late night comedians involve one of Palin’s daughters being knooked up at Yankee Stadium during the 7th inning stretch by A-Rod? (Or,for that matter, anything close to it?)

    I am neither right wing nor paranoid, by the way. I do have enough sensibilities to recognize crude, inappropriate and gratuitous degradation when I see or hear it.

    Letterman should not have said what he said about ANYONE’S daughter. Period. Anyone who sdisagrees should head on back for a refresher in Fundamental Decency 1-A.

  22. 22
    Ron Chusid says:

    No jokes about Yankee Stadium, but plenty of jokes about Palin’s daughters getting knocked up, including ones at sporting events. Letterman should not have said what he said, but he has made far less jokes about the Palin daughters getting knocked up than other comedians have, and he made a point of limiting it to an 18 year old while others have not.

  23. 23
    BillyC says:

    Sure glad Bristol is stil not 17……….
    What would Letterman and his overpaid “writers” have done for material?

  24. 24
    Ron Chusid says:

    Considering he had two jokes about Bristol all week, losing them would not have made much of a difference in terms of requiring material.

  25. 25
    BillyC says:

    True. Off point, but true.

    Still, the two crude coomments that he did have the poor taste and amazing lack of judgment to mouth have appropriately come back to kick him in the ass.

    Note: in your weekly Letterman Palin daughter comment count, surely, you did not expect Letterman to continue the week with more Palin daughter comments after the nuclear reaction to the A-Rod comment.

    Note 2: I am assuming you might be referring to the Spitzer comment as the other comment? Why not spend some time defending the appropriatness of that one?

  26. 26
    Ron Chusid says:

    Why would I defend the appropriateness of the Spitzer comment when I’ve already argued that none of the jokes about Bristol Palin were appropriate?

    I wouldn’t expect more jokes about Palin’s daughter but you asked what the writers would have done for material. As it was only two jokes that wasn’t an issue.

  27. 27
    BillyC says:

    Ron, It was a rhetorical question………

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