Facing a rising storm over his comments last week, David Letterman issued an apology to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on Monday night’s “Late Show.” Saying that “the joke, really, in and of itself, can’t be defended,” Letterman issued the mea culpa to Palin over a quip he made last Monday in his opening monologue that some interpreted as possibly being about Palin’s underage daughter Willow, 14, when in fact the long-running late-night host said the intended target was the governor’s 18-year-old daughter Bristol.
Last week, Letterman joked in his monologue about an “awkward moment” for Palin at a New York Yankees game, when “her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” Letterman did not refer to the daughter by name, though he later claimed he was referring to unwed mother Bristol, not Willow, who actually accompanied her mother to the game.
“There was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium,” Letterman said. “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.
“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.”
He continued by explaining that after watching someone on another show discuss the joke, he finally began to understand the outrage. “It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception,” he said. “And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not a very good joke. And I’m certainly … 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. … 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.”
Letterman has come under fire for the joke, which spurred a Web site calling for his ouster, firedavidletterman.com, whose supporters are still planning a protest outside the show’s studios on Monday afternoon. TVGuide.com also reported that one advertiser, Embassy Suites, had pulled ads from the CBS Web site because of complaints about the joke.
The late-night host made a softer apology last week, admitting that the jokes were in “questionable” taste, spurring Palin to deem him “sexually perverted” and her husband, Todd, to call him “despicable.” The Palins accepted Letterman’s latest apology, according to ABC News. “Of course it’s accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who ‘joke’ about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve,” read a statement from the governor. “Letterman certainly has the right to ‘joke’ about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America’s right to free speech — in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect.”