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Point/Counterpoint: Letterman's joke about the Palins was just that

by Danny Gallagher, posted Jun 16th 2009 2:01PM
Sarah Palin and David Letterman A lot of dissecting and exploratory surgery has been done on the jokes that David Letterman made about the Palin family. Even after Dave apologized and Palin accepted, people still want to perform a comedy autopsy to figure out what Dave's intent was and why Palin was so vocal in her reaction to it.

The problem is it's an unnecessary surgery and it fails to attack the root of the problem while the real cancer spreads like a California wildfire. E.B. White once said about such procedures that, "Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it." The only reason this frog hasn't died is because someone wants to keep it alive and no one has dared to touch the heart.

This is the side I will debate in the never-ending Letterman vs. Palin "Joke-gate" controversy while our very own John Scott Lewinski will offer a rebuttal later in the day that a public figure's children should always be off-limits.

First off, I find it rather interesting that this is the first time a joke about the Palins' kids has reached such a fever pitch. If Letterman is guilty of bad taste, that also means Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Bill Maher could be charged as accessories after the fact and should all share a cell in Comedy Jail. They have all made jokes about the Palin kids and how Bristol's big underage mistake in the sack has made her an "easy" target (pun intended) for every political and athletic horn-dog who is still roasting on a spit at the concession stand of public shame. That's why it's called "late night" television. It's like after dark cable TV but with less appealing boobs.

But bad taste isn't the only crime on Letterman's rap sheet. A bigger and more egregious charge lies just behind the sidebar - ignorance. I can't telepathically pull the fact that Letterman and his punch-pullers knew that Bristol wasn't the daughter at the game out of their heads, but the joke assumes Bristol was the one at the game because she's the daughter who has had the most face time because of her mother's vice presidential campaign and Bristol's abstinence promotion tour.

Jokes aren't about reporting the news in a timely and politically unbiased fashion. If all late night and stand-up comedians had to be fair to their targets and keep everyone's level of offensiveness in mind, we'd have nothing but Hee Haw on the tube every night. Just the thought of living in that world makes the grits rise in my gullet.

Bristol is an adult and on TV in a socially political context and that makes her fair game for satire. It might seem cruel and unfair to kick a pregnant unwed mother when she's facing the biggest mistake of her life, but it happens on TV on both sides of the political spectrum, from late night jokes to stump speeches of politicians looking for news sound-bytes. Poor Willow just happened to be in the cross-hairs either because the joke worked better without mentioning which Palin girl was at the game or newspapers have become as obsolete as a news source as the town crier or the wizard who predicts the future with leech races.

If Palin and company really wanted Dave to apologize instead of draw this out into another media tour filled with wild accusations and allusions to perversions and innuendo, they should take him up on his offer to appear on the show and let him writhe like the squiggly little worm they have portrayed him to be. He's done it several times, most notably with his invitation to the late comedian Bill Hicks' mother. He would do it again and somehow, it would be oh so uncomfortably funny. All the other late night shows will make fun of it and it will also be funny.

Maybe then we'll remember just why most people watch shows after 11:30 p.m. in the first place. I mean, other than you're drunk and Judge Joe Brown is a rerun.

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The rule these days is that all public figures are fair game for the press and comedians. Since Sarah Palin is the one who had the bad taste to turn her kids into public figures, she has nothing legitimate to complain about.

Of course, she knows this and is just using Dave to get her name repeated over and over and over. The Republicans dug such a deep hole for themselves with their support of the Bush/Cheney disaster, they apparently believe the old saw that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Unfortunately for them, that only applies to show business, not to politics. Let's all relish the irony that her approval numbers keep going down and Dave's ratings keep going up.

June 18 2009 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

Letterman's still employed. Did you see his Top Ten last night? TOO FUNNY!!!!!

June 17 2009 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The GOP and Sarah Palin are famous for fake outrage.

How dare they make such horrible comments! Forget all the nastiness of Sarah Palin's speech in St Paul that introduced us to her.

Hmmm. Is she a "pitbull wearing lipstick" or a victim?

June 17 2009 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mothers! Women! Where is your sense of outrage of this disgusting man! What has happened to us, we are back taking crap from these sick, sick men.....

Stand up again Women and don't allow these sick old men to do this again.......

Letterman will be fired!

June 17 2009 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only one comment/question: What if Rush Limbaugh had made the exact same joke about one of Obama's daughters????

Can you say Don Imus?

June 16 2009 at 9:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to adiog2's comment
Bryan McGuckin

No matter how many punctuation marks you needlessly add, no one would make the exact same joke about Obama's children because it wouldn't make any sense.

June 17 2009 at 12:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look, this is really how it is. It was a joke made in horrible taste. It should have never been written, and should have definitely never been spoken. It doesn't matter if it was about the 18 year old girl or the 14 year old.

Children are off limits, especially when it comes to people that try not to put themselves in the spotlight but are thrust in to the spotlight. The daughters aren't trying to be famous, their mother is. Leave the daughters alone.

And going more on what I just said we need to decide as a culture what is off limits and what is fair game when it comes to this kind of things. I know that sounds a bit cruel, but frankly, this was the best example of why we need it.

In regards to Letterman himself, he apologized, albeit I thought it was a pretty poor apology, but that really should be it. Mccain said it himself that we should just put it behind us. It happened, it was more or less resolved by the parties, so people should just let it go already.

People who say that Letterman should be fired for it should look at themselves. We have all made a joke in poor taste, should we all be punished for it? Again, he should have been a lot more careful being the spotlight, but we all are allowed to let one go every now and then. It happens.

Again, I think he should have made a better apology for it but as long as they think it's resolved then that should be it. To go as far as firing him for it should just let it go being that-that is definitely going way too far.

June 16 2009 at 8:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Z3Relic's comment
Bryan McGuckin

Could you explain how an 18 year old woman, who is a mother, falls under protected child status?

June 17 2009 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What was Dave's intent: to make a joke. It's not rocket science. It may have been a bad joke, but that's all there was to it. There's no liberal conspiracy here.

Pesonally, I hope this is the end of all the apologizing; once wasn't even necessary and two is too much. Conservatives say much worse about Liberals and they're not apologizing. I mean, it wasn't that long ago that Conservative were making Pussy Galore jokes about Nancy Pelosi. Move on, already! There are actually real problems in the world other than Governor Palin's "hurt" feelings.

June 16 2009 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

Bristol only became fair game when she went on the abstinence promotion tour and appeared on Fox news and other places. Her getting knocked up and her mother running for vice president were not things that should have put her in the public eye.

June 16 2009 at 2:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.

E. B. White, "Some Remarks on Humor", introduction

June 16 2009 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The thing we have to remember is that it was a joke, it wasn't based on reality, it didn't actually happen. It was humour based on the idea that Alex Rodriguez has sex with a lot of women, every woman for the sake of comedy, and that Sarah Palin has a young daughter who got pregnant. The joke arises because Sarah Palin went to a baseball game. That any or none of her daughters was at that game is irrelevant to the joke actually being a joke, the humour doesn't came from the accuracy of the scenario depicted in the joke, Dave could have known that none of the daughters went, but could have still made the joke, because since it didn't actually happen the humour still comes from our existing knowledge of Bristol and more importantly Rodriguez. Had Bristol actually been there, had she actually been impregnated it wouldn't be funny, it wouldn't be a joke, it would be stating fact and horrifying. It could have been Sarah Palin herself that Dave joked about having been knocked up, would anyone honestly have thought it happened? At a baseball game!?

To think that Letterman would actually tell a joke on the explicit understanding that it was actually an underage girl being talked about is just stupid.

Sure the way the joke was worded leaves enough ambiguity to argue that the joke could be about her younger daughter, but why would they need to? Does it being about Bristol make it ok to joke about, maybe, maybe not, but a lot of jokes the world over are in questionable taste, but to somehow pigeon-hole the language and imply that it categorically about the rape of a minor strikes me of the Palins and/or there supporters looking for media attention and trying to spark controversy where really there isn't any.

Is it something that Letterman and his staff could have caught and realised that some people might misconstrue it and take it badly, possibly. Is it anything more than that. I really don't think so.

June 16 2009 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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