Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letterman Doesn't Get It

So David Letterman has now formally apologized to the Palin family for the joke he made about a Palin daughter getting "knocked up" by A-Rod. During his show last night, Letterman went on and on about how people just didn't seem to get the joke he told. He kept saying that he didn't realize that the daughter who appeared at the New York Yankees game with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was the Palin's 14-year-old daughter Willow. He thought the girl accompanying Gov. Palin was her 18-year-old daughter Bristol, the one who had the baby and who has appeared on People Magazine's cover offering herself up as a cautionary tale to other teens. (She told the magazine, "Girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby and then think before they have sex. Think about the consequences.")

During his "apology" last night, Letterman said, "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." He added that after seeing a PBS commentator complain about the joke he thought, "Oh boy, now I'm beginning to understand what the problem is here. It's the perception rather than the intent." (Link to video here.)

Beyond the incompetence of Letterman's staff -- they didn't know which daughter was in Yankee Stadium, fact-checking always bites you in the behind if you don't do it -- there's the notion that, at the root of this, it's funny and okay and acceptable to mock an 18-year-old girl for having a baby, to shame her because of her mother's conservative politics and polarizing public persona. It's amusing to make sport of a life-altering mistake for which Bristol is trying to atone by telling fellow teens that life's no picnic now that she's a teen mom.

Letterman is not alone in using the teenaged Bristol Palin's pregnancy as a punch line. A writer at The Washington Post did some digging and discovered that other late night hosts used Bristol's pregnancy more often than Letterman:

"Through mid-March, Leno had made 15 jokes about the Palin daughter's pregnancy, Stewart had told four on 'The Daily Show,' and Letterman checked in with eight, according to an analysis of late-night humor by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research organization affiliated with George Mason University.

The comedian most likely to bash Bristol Palin? O'Brien, with 20 jokes at her expense."

Telling a joke that uses the offspring of a politician -- a teenager to boot -- as the butt of a joke, leaves a trail of slimy residue behind. The children of politicians shouldn't be fair game. Do all the jokes you want to about the politicians and celebs who make their living off of garnering public attention, but somewhere, there should be some boundaries which protect the children. (True Bristol's 18, but she can't even drink legally yet.) I'm all for cutting, edgy humor, but maybe the late night comics should choose their targets more wisely. Bottom line: Letterman's protestations and intent aside, he told a joke about a 14-year-old, not the 18-year-old. Not cool.


Doug said...

So then I guess you stand ready to condemn John McCain for his joke about Chelsea Clinton, not to mention his rape joke.

Meredith said...

Yep. Those things were totally wrong, tasteless and out of bounds.

McCain's "humor" came back to bite him on more than one occasion during the campaign.

I didn't like it when folks mocked Chelsea Clinton. And I wouldn't like to people joke about the Obama girls.

ALL of the kids should be off-limits. Their parents provide plenty of good comedic material.