Non-Scandal: CBS/Late Show Did Not Spike Anti-Obama 'Top Ten'

Despite repeated e-mails NewsBusters received late last week apparently spurred by mis-informed postings elsewhere, I've hesitated, since I considered it so ridiculous, to address the allegation that CBS or David Letterman staffers caved to pressure and removed from the Late Show with David Letterman Web site a “Top Ten” list critical of Barack Obama, the “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.” But then last night World Net Daily put the issue back in play with an article which speculated:
Is CBS showing bias toward Barack Obama? The "Late Show with David Letterman" has removed a spoof on Obama from website archives but opted to keep a "Top Ten" list ripping John McCain from the previous evening -- and show representatives are denying any knowledge of the missing clip.

As a David Letterman fan who has watched his show nearly every night since 1982 -- though I have been disappointed by his recent left-wing political rants on the show -- I can provide a simple explanation which involves no effort to hide the list: The list, prepared for, and presented on, the Tuesday, July 29 show was, as happens many times each year, edited from the program because later interview segments with Kevin Costner and/or Bob Sarlatte ran long. The purpose of the Late Show site is to post highlights from the show and since Letterman's reading of it did not air on the program as broadcast on CBS the list should not have been posted. Yet it was put up, along with video of Letterman reading it (hence why there is YouTube video of it that makes it appear the list did air on the show), by mistake. When that error was realized the list, and matching video, were removed -- as they should have been.

(Updated below with confirmation obtained by National Review's Byron York.) UPDATE, August 13: As predicted below, the August 11 e-mailed Late Show Newsletter features: "From the Home Office in Wahoo, Nebraska...An Exclusive Un-Aired Top Ten List Edited from the 7/29/08 Broadcast: 'Top Ten Signs Barack Obama Is Overconfident.'" JPG image of the Top Ten in the newsletter. (Also displayed below)

It is not unusual -- I'd guess about once a week -- for a “Top Ten” list which Letterman plugs as coming up after a commercial break to not air. Sometimes that's because he sees the final version of the list during the break and rejects it; other times he reads it but it is cut for time since killing it in post-production is a quick way to reduce the show length by 90 seconds to two minutes without having to chop up an interview session.

When I saw the Obama list posted, I was surprised since I knew it had not aired. I put it into the July 31 MRC CyberAlert, where the text remains posted, with this explanation:

From the Late Show with David Letterman, a "Top Ten" list written for the July 29 show, but edited out for time from what aired yet accidentally posted on the show's Web site, the "Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident."
And it's not totally off the Late Show site. The July 29 edition of the daily “Wahoo Gazette,” a rundown of what occurred on the program, includes this:
ACT 3:
TOP TEN: Signs Barack Obama Is Overconfident
10. Proposed bill to change Oklahoma to "Oklobama."
9. Offered Bush 20 bucks for the "Mission Accomplished" banner
6. Having head measured for Mount Rushmore.

Author Michael McIntee, a member of the production staff, takes notes as the show is taped at 5:30 PM EDT before an audience in the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in Manhattan, and then writes up the Wahoo Gazette entry. Since the list was read by Letterman, he cited it but was unaware it was edited out in post-production and so did not air.

Often the “Top Ten” lists cut from the program are featured in a future issue of the e-mailed “Late Show Newsletter.” (Indeed this one was, as explained in the August 13 Update above, featured in the August 11 newsletter. Image to the right.)

[UPDATE, 3 PM EDT: A Letterman staffer confirmed my assumption the list was cut for time, did not air and thus was taken down from the Web site per standard policy. David Yoder of the best Letterman site on the Web, “DDY's Late Show Fan Page,” alerted me to a thread about this controversy on alt.fan.letterman where I saw that National Review's Byron York posted this Tuesday on NRO's The Corner:

...I linked to the Top 10 list on the "Late Show" website, but not long after my item was posted, I got a number of emails telling me the list had disappeared from the site. The suspicion was that the "Late Show" had pulled the controversial item. I've been meaning to call CBS to find out, and today I finally got around to it.

A spokeswoman told me there was nothing unusual going on -- the list, she said, was never actually aired, having been cut from the July 29 program because the rest of the show was running over time. "It was edited out for time, and what happened was that the web guys put it up there before they got a list of the material that was edited out," the spokesman told me. Once the web guys got the word, the list was taken down, in the same way that previous Top 10 lists that had been cut for time reasons were taken off the site. But the spokesman assures me it will appear in an upcoming issue of the "Late Show" newsletter.]

Oh, here's the list in question, “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident,” produced for the July 29 Late Show (but not aired on the Late Show with David Letterman):

10. Proposed bill to change Oklahoma to "Oklobama"

9. Offered Bush 20 bucks for the "Mission Accomplished" banner

8. Asked guy at Staples, "Which chair will work best in an oval-shaped office?"

7. The affair with Barbara Walters

6. Having head measured for Mount Rushmore

5. Guy sits around eating soup all day

4. He's voting for Nader

3. Offered McCain a job in gift shop at Obama Presidential Library

2. Announced his running mate will be Andy Dick

1. Been cruising for chicks with John Edwards
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center