David Letterman has genuinely apologized to Sarah Palin and her family for a coarse joke he cracked last Monday about Palin’s daughter being impregnated by Alex Rodriguez at a Yankees game. The joke was a dumb one that suggested that the daughter was promiscuous. “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.”
Letterman thought he was joking about 18 year-old daughter, Bristol, who has a young son, but the only daughter at the game with Palin on the day in question was 14 year-old Willow. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, were outraged. They claimed that Letterman was joking about statutory rape and that jokes like that contribute to a culture that is cruel and victimizing to young girls. Even if Letterman meant Bristol, it could still be interpreted as mean to suggest that she’s easy just because she has a baby. Letterman gave a sort-of half apology on Thursday, and said that of course he didn’t know Willow was there at the game and he would never joke about her:
“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.”
The Palins brought media attention to the joke with a statement Todd issued which claimed that Letterman was joking about rape. Sarah Palin then went on The Today Show on Friday and echoed her husband’s sentiments. She even suggested that Willow might not be safe around Letterman and said “it would be wise to keep Willow away from [him]” but then backtracked and tried to say that she could have meant that Willow would give Dave a piece of her mind.
Last night on the air, Letterman said that he’s been thinking about all the fallout over the joke. He finally realizes that it doesn’t matter what he meant and that what’s important is how people interpreted it. It sounds like he’s sincerely sorry for making an off color joke about either of the Palin daughters. He wants to make peace with the family and with everyone who thought it was offensive:
“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)
[NBC transcript via TV Week]
Letterman seemed sincere to me and let’s hope everyone can move on. You wonder how the Palins are going to respond, and if they’ll either let it slide at this point or if they’ll issue a statement saying they appreciate Dave’s apology. I can’t see them continuing to say they’re upset over it after he’s offered an olive branch, but we’ll have to see.
Update: Palin has accepted Letterman’s apology, and said, in part “Of course I accept [the apology] on behalf of young women like my daughters.”