Letterman to Make Full Apology Tonight for Joke About Palin's Daughter

“David Letterman is making a full-throated apology for his controversial joke about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter,” TV Week reported a short while ago. “During a taping of tonight's [Monday 6/15] edition of his CBS Late Show, Letterman went much further than his last explanation of the joke, in which he quipped that a baseball player had 'knocked up' Palin's daughter,” Josef Adalian wrote.

Though Palin and conservatives were outraged and demanded an apology and retraction for a “joke” seemed aimed at the 14-year-old daughter though Letterman said he was referring to the 18-year-old daughter, it took the liberal columnist Mark Shields on PBS to convince Letterman he had a problem. Letterman will explain (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript):

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.
On Monday's show last week, Letterman's monologue included: “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning her daughter was knocked-up by Alex Rodriguez.” That Late Show also featured the “Top Ten Highlights of Sarah Palin's Trip to New York” with this entry: “Bought makeup from Bloomingdale's to update her 'slutty flight attendant' look.”

TV Week provided “a transcript of Letterman's comments, as supplied by CBS publicity.” The full text which should match what he'll say on tonight's Late Show:
"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)
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