David Letterman Sarah Palin Apology: Perception or Intent?

David Letterman, host of the CBS Late Show with David Letterman, has decided to issue an apology of sorts to Governor Sarah Palin and her family. If you haven’t heard Letterman’s comments about the Governor and her daughters, you can find them here.

Below is the text of David Letterman’s apology to Governor Sarah Palin and her family (after a short commentary).

David Letterman

He finally “got it,” he said, when he realized it was the” perception” of the “joke” and not his “intent.”

So that’s the distinction that he thinks matters.

The fact is, the “intent” of his “joke” was to say that Palin’s 18-year-old daughter got knocked up – again – at the ballpark that evening.” That was his intent.

On the way to attacking a young woman, he mentioned that Sarah Palin dresses like a “slutty flight attendant,” but the “slutty” comment isn’t what has everyone so repulsed.

Letterman thinks that we “preceived” that he was telling the “joke” about Palin’s 14-year-old-daughter (not the 18-year-old) who actually attended the ball game that night.

He’s cheeky enough to tell the audience “it’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault.” What!? No one misunderstood. We “got it” from the beginning – no matter which Palin daughter he was referring to.

Either way, perception and intent are one-and-the-same: the smearing of Sarah Palin and her family in a particularly ugly and vile way. Here’s the question: why was he talking about Sarah Palin’s daughters?


Letterman: “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…” “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)

End Letterman transcript.

If you watch CBS, leave a comment here and let me know why you would do so. This week, CBS republished a New Republic article titled Meet Iran’s George W. Bush, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Read the article as well as some commentary here.

CBS lost the last shred of credibility when they said that Ahmadinejad is Iran’s George W. Bush.