Palin Ignored Worse Jokes Than Letterman’s

Via Twitter, Jeff Jarvis links this interesting bit from WaPo’s Paul Farhi:

So, the strange case of Palin v. Letterman appears to be resolved with Letterman’s very classy apology last night. I say “appears” because, based on my email, some people just won’t let it go. They insist, despite TWO on-air explanations, that Letterman really, really was aiming his crack at 14-year-old Willow Palin, not 18-year-old single mom Bristol Palin. I won’t defend the joke–even Letterman concedes it’s not defensible–but I got news for some of you: The joke makes no sense in reference to Willow. But I guess vendettas and political ax grinding know no logic, or even facts.

I do find this whole episode curious, primarily because of its timing. As I wrote in today’s paper (hey, I like quoting myself; at least I won’t be accused of a misquote), variations of this sort of “joke” have been around since Palin came to national prominence last summer at the Republican Convention. Yet dozens of both milder and harsher iterations (Saturday Night Live’s insinuation that Todd Palin raped his daughter is especially outrageous and revolting) were ignored by Palin, the Republican Party and the outraged types who are now venting in my email box. Sarah Palin even made a now-famous appearance on “SNL” just a few weeks after that skit aired. So what’s different this time?

An interesting question, indeed.    A week ago, I wrote a post titled Letterman Palin Jokes Cross the Line, both excoriating Letterman for his remarks but defending him from the ridiculous charge that he was some sort of pervert who liked to joke about 14-year-olds.  Since then, Letterman first explained his remarks and subsequently apologized for them profusely. And rightly so.

But I have a hard time believing Palin was legitimately confused days later about the target of the joke and, in light of the previous jokes told about Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, particularly outraged at this one.   Instead, she took advantage of the initial media brouhaha over the Willow/Bristol confusion and made a big spectacle, hoping to both remove the Bristol mess out of the realm of legitimate ridicule and reframe herself as an aggrieved party rather than a rather cartoonish figure.

We’ll see how she does.   My guess is that the Letterman experience will in fact remove the Bristol jokes from the late-night comedy circuit, which is just as well.  As for Sarah Palin’s own rebranding, she’s going to have to do that on the public policy front, not by garnering sympathy as an aggrieved mother.

FILED UNDER: Media, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Ignoring the jokes during an active campaign cycle is probably just an artifact of the political process, where calling attention to that specific incident could just as easily detract attention from the actual campaign issues, as benefit the McCain/Palin campaign.

  2. JT says:

    I thought that Willow was the assumed target of the joke because she was the one who attended the ball game with her parents, not Bristol. Or did I understand that wrong?

  3. James Joyner says:

    I thought that Willow was the assumed target of the joke because she was the one who attended the ball game with her parents, not Bristol.

    That was the source of the confusion, yes. Either Letterman’s writers saw that the Palins took their daughter to a ballgame and got confused as to which it was or they knew Palin went to the game and didn’t even know the daughter had gone. But the joke simply makes a ton more sense applied to Bristol.

  4. Joey Buzz says:

    “But the joke simply makes a ton more sense applied to Bristol.”
    The “joke” implied sex with A-roid during the 7th inning. How does one accomplish that if one is not in the stadium during the game. Letterman used the word “daughter”. There was only one Palin daughter at the game.
    Suppose Letterman hears from the paper that some bloggers attended a game and he makes a joke about bloggers having sex with the team. As it turns out you were the only blogger at the game. Is the joke ultimately about you or about some gay or transgender blogger that coulndt make it just because it would make a “ton more sense” to be about them?

  5. Mr. Grouchypants says:

    The most interesting thing about the controversy to me is how everyone is focusing on the A-Rod joke while more or less ignoring the Eliot Spitzer joke Letterman made the following day. I assume Palin supporters latched onto it because of the statutory rape implications, but the Spitzer joke actually seems worse to me given Spitzer’s reputation. While it’s not as creepy as implying that a 14 year old is a prostitute, making that implication about an 18 year old unwed mother seems pretty out of bounds to me.

    Plus, considering this was the second day they made a joke about Palin’s trip, shouldn’t someone on Letterman’s staff known who was actually accompanying Palin on the trip by then?

  6. Greg says:

    I agree with the comment about the campaign. Responding to those jokes would have distracted from the hard business and rhythm of the campaign.

    At the same time, responding to them now frames Palin in hard nosed and positive way. She surely took advantage of that.

  7. Eric says:

    … responding to them now frames Palin in hard nosed and positive way.

    I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps initially, but now after her somewhat snide “acceptance” of Letterman’s apology, plus that fact that she’s totally milking the incident, I think she now comes off as opportunistic and, frankly, whiny.

  8. Mark says:

    There is no defending Letterman, his writers, nor their legal staff on this point. There is also nothing “curious” about Palin’s outrage at this. Timing is irrelevant.
    I have 4 daughters, ranging from 26 years old to 14 years old. Any decent moral person would agree that a persons daughters do NOT become political fair game because their parent is in the public eye. Letterman is a parent too, and since I rarely see his child or children in the news I suppose he values their privacy. Consider the “ultimate outrage”…a joke about one of the Obama daughters being seduced in the romantic shadows of the Eiffel Tower.
    Let’s look at the behind the scenes actively here…..
    • This was part of Letterman’s “Top Ten” staple so none of it was off the cuff or spontaneous. It was legal staff reviewed and approved. The entire administration of his show would have signed off on this.
    • This happened during a Palin trip to the “lower 48” when it could be assumed it was known that she was about to secure Exxon participation in a major energy coup for Alaska and by extension her approval and reputation.
    I hope for all of our sakes that the major networks are not that far gone. I can almost ignore some of the MSM abject fawning over Obama and this administration (strong gag reflexes) but it seems convenient that Palin would be embroiled in a public issue that should never have happened rather than a public discussion of a major energy success.
    So, Mr. Letterman gets no slack on this issue. The fact that he delivered this scripted joke says much about his standards, his writers, and their entire system that is put in place to keep “stupid” from occurring on stage.

  9. Mr. Grouchypants says:

    Why shouldn’t she milk the incident? She’s a politician. If she didn’t try to take advantage of a gaffe as bad as Letterman’s, I would question her political instincts.

    And it’s not like the Palin jokes aren’t political in nature anyway. They are intended to caricature her and hinder any chance she has for running for President in the future.

  10. Eric says:

    I have 4 daughters, ranging from 26 years old to 14 years old. Any decent moral person would agree that a persons daughters do NOT become political fair game because their parent is in the public eye.

    Right, Mark et al: When the righties were attacking 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton a decade ago, I assume you were on the forefront of those outraged over that too. Look, I have a 6-year-old daughter, too, and I thought Letterman’s joke was in poor taste. But he did the right thing by apologizing and seems sorry, so let’s all just move on.

    But, seriously, let’s consider all the over-outrage here. David Letterman, a TV host who has a pretty much sterling track record, tells one off-color joke, realizes the error, and apologizes not just once but twice, well, he’s despicable and should be cut no slack and should be fired.

    Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, a man who’s track record isn’t exactly squeaky clean, who daily spouts venomous borderline racist and sexist remarks, and who has never apologized for anything not even an itty bit, well, the very same people do not show any outrage whatsoever, nor call for his firing. After all, we’re told, Rush is just an entertainer, and can’t you mealy-mouthed liberals take a joke.

    Tell ya what Crazy Right: take the log out of your own eye before trying to take the splinter out of ours.

  11. Davebo says:

    Forget Limbaugh Eric, how about John McCain?

    “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father”

    No one called for his resignation.

  12. JKB says:

    Have I missed something? Todd Palin issued a statement and Sarah Palin has accepted Letterman’s apologies. How are the Palins’ controlling the backlash?

    The backlash against Letterman is by people who found the joke offensive (regardless of which daughter was intended to be slandered) and have decided to do something about it. So exercising free speech and free assembly they are speaking out against the baseless attack and organizing together to influence advertisers to rethink their sponsorship. It’s still the America we all know and many of us love. As Don Imus discovered, as Tex Antoine discovered, you never know when your remarks are going to galvanize people against you. And they both got nailed by off the cuff remarks, not the committee generated, edited and reviewed planned skit of Letterman.

    Should this be dropped, of course; best reaction is to just stop tuning into Letterman. But I fear the calls to just let it go are more to stop the painful realization for many that their mean-spirited, hateful attacks are no longer being nervously tolerated and they will be confronted and named for the type of person they are.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    Aha. So, he was making a joke, he thought about Bristol Palin, not Willow getting ‘knocked up” by A-Rod? Gee, I feel sooooo much better.

    Tell me, about whom would such a joke be acceptable? Even Madonna, who was shall we say, well ‘known’ in the biblical sense in the past, wouldn’t have dealt with it. The firestorm resulting would have been relentless. Not here, though, huh?

    Letterman used to… say, 25 years back, be a decent host, a decent enough comic. More recently, he’s falling down to the level of Dice Clay or Michael Richards, and particularly here.

    Perhaps it’s time Letterman went away, like they did, and for the same reasons.

  14. Weston says:

    I think it’s a shame that Letterman apologized. It was a joke. That’s what jokes do. People are so easily offended and have no sense of humor. So what if it was “creepy” or “disgusting”. That’s the point of the joke, dummy! If you’ve never made a joke in your life that was borderline “wrong” then you have a supreme lack of personality and brains. Do the rest of us a favor and keep your busybody selves out of our lives. Or if you really want to combat this sort of thing, get your own damn show where you can deliver bland humor that takes no risk in offending anyone.

  15. Herb says:

    But I have a hard time believing Palin was legitimately confused days later about the target of the joke and, in light of the previous jokes told about Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, particularly outraged at this one.

    I have a hard time believing Palin even heard the joke until John Ziegler pointed it out to her.

    And hey, that’s fine. Late night TV is horrendous. If Letterman started cracking jokes on me, that’s probably how I’d find out too because I don’t watch his show.

    But…and this is the difference between me and Sarah Palin…I would do the due diligence to see exactly what was said and why it was said. Then I would form an opinion on the subject.

    But Sarah Palin’s initial response was “That’s pretty pathetic, good ole David Letterman.” Because, you see, when it comes to David Letterman, her opinion has already been formed. He’s part of that liberal media elite that doesn’t speak for the “real America.”

    And ya know, Joey Buzz, you’re applying way too much logic to a joke that makes no sense to begin with. A-rod isn’t having sex with anyone – not Bristol, not Willow, not Madonna – during the 7th inning stretch. The absurdity of the situation is what makes it a joke. The targets are what make it a bad joke.

  16. Maybe Sarah Palin has come to realize that taking the supposed high road and ignoring it doesn’t work and that calling the miscreants out and fighting back is the only way to bring a stop to this particular brand of incivility.

    Perhaps enough is enough is a more appropriate interpretation in this instance.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Perhaps it’s time Letterman went away, like they did, and for the same reasons.

    Hardly, as all of this has produced a ratings bonanza for his show…I’m sure some people hope that this continues to be an issue, as they will be laughing all the way to the bank…perhaps protesters should find a better strategy, though…

  18. MM says:

    *Drudge Siren*

    Comedians make fun of people, often through exaggerating the existing public images of said people and taking them to illogical and/or absurd extremes!

    *Drudge Siren*

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled Fauxtrage.

  19. Mark says:

    Dear Eric,
    No logs in these eyes! Splinters either. Couldn’t help but notice you reverted to a classic defense that I gave up for dead when I was, oh, about 4 years old or so. Noted that you “Cherry picked” the rest of my note as well.
    If Chelsea was slighted it was wrong, period. Without specifics on Rush, can’t address your comment.
    As always, happy to step on you poor libs on morality issues!

  20. Derrick says:

    Maybe Sarah Palin has come to realize that taking the supposed high road and ignoring it doesn’t work and that calling the miscreants out and fighting back is the only way to bring a stop to this particular brand of incivility.

    Oh yes accussing people of “palin’ around with terrorists” is the height of civility.

  21. One thing that annoys me about the Republican bade: they’ll cheer on absolutely vicious humor from people like Coulter, but when something comes back their way, suddenly they want to get a glass jaw about it and start snivelling about offensive everyone is being to them.

  22. Jim Treacher says:

    But I have a hard time believing Palin was legitimately confused days later about the target of the joke

    That might be because you weren’t at the ballgame sitting next to the girl who Palin wasn’t supposed to assume was the target of the joke about the girl sitting next to her at the ballgame. “Oh, you meant one of my other daughters? Well, then, that’s okay.”

    This isn’t about politics. It’s about protecting your kids from creeps. She did, and now he’s backing down and will not be allowed to do it again.

  23. Mr. Grouchypants says:

    While I’m sure Palin was legitimately offended by the jokes and wanted to defend whichever daughter Letterman was calling a prostitute, I wouldn’t say this wasn’t about politics.

    Her reputation has already been damaged by the numerous jokes made about her since her nomination. If she continued to allow them without speaking out, she would be allowing herself to further diminished politically. She needed to draw some kind of line in the sand.

    Letterman just provided her an easy couple of jokes for her to do just that. Because no reasonable person is going to have a problem with a mother crying foul when someone implies that her daughter is a whore.

  24. Derrick, I don’t know what you are referring to, but so what? Two wrongs don’t make a right. Saying someone else does it too as an excuse should have stopped working in grade school.

    Stormy Dragon, I have never cheered on Ann Coulter, finding her every bit as offensive as perhaps you do. Generalizing the actions of a few knuckleheads to everyone you disagree with is a serious error, even if it increases the pool of people you can feel superior to.

    It is somewhat disconcerting that so many people want to justify or excuse David Letterman’s crass remarks seemingly because the intended butt if the joke is fair game for anything, no matter how rude, crude, lewd, or despicable. The double standard is appalling (imagine Dennis Miller making a similar contemporary comment about, say, Chelsea Clinton even now and what the reactions from the usual suspects might be) but what is more troubling is just how uncouth, uncivil and downright mean popular culture has become. Anybody remember Red Skelton? Bob Newhart? Bill Cosby? Johnny Carson?

  25. Herb says:

    This isn’t about politics. It’s about protecting your kids from creeps.

    Jim, I disagree. It’s all about politics.

    David Letterman may be a creep, but let’s not pretend that the guy is a threat to children. He told an off-color joke on late night TV. So what? Children shouldn’t even be watching that stuff.

    You know how I’m going to protect my kids from David Letterman? Send them to bed during the nightly news —before his show comes on– and then I’ll keep the remote control in my lap.

    You know how I’m NOT going to protect my kids from David Letterman? By signing some stupid “Fire Letterman” petition and making a contribution to the Palin ’12 PAC.

    Because one of those is the self-reliant, personal responsibility conservative route…and the other is the PC, activist moonbat method. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

  26. James Joyner says:

    what is more troubling is just how uncouth, uncivil and downright mean popular culture has become. Anybody remember Red Skelton? Bob Newhart? Bill Cosby? Johnny Carson?

    I’m absolutely with you on this one. I’ve never been a Letterman watcher and preferred Leno’s style to his.

    I’m just defending him on the narrow basis that his joke was merely a tasteless zietgeist jibe at an 18-year-old rather than an outrageous attack on a 14-year-old. An saying Palin seems to be doing this for publicity rather than genuine outrage given previous reax and SNL appearance.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    I’ve never been a Letterman watcher and preferred Leno’s style to his.

    Really? Even when Leno told a similar joke?

    An saying Palin seems to be doing this for publicity rather than genuine outrage given previous reax and SNL appearance.

    Of course that is spot on…considering her current political fortunes, I’m sure she thinks she needs all the help she can get…

  28. Generalizing the actions of a few knuckleheads to everyone you disagree

    I generally don’t disagree with them. The fact it’s the people supposedly on my side acting that way is part of what annoys me about it.

  29. John425 says:

    This website/blog has degenerated into an apologia for the Left. I am deleting it from my reading list. Suck up to the Left all you want. I’m outta here.

  30. ggr says:

    Its pretty clear that the joke was about the 14 year old.

    1) Joke was aimed at the daughter who was at the game.
    2) The daughter who was at the game is 14.
    3) Therefore the joke was aimed at a 14 year old.

    In fact, there doesn’t seem any reasonable way to come to a different conclusion. He might have had the 18 year old in mind, but perhaps unintentionally he unambiguously described the 14 year old.

    But he apologized, and Sarah Palin accepted the apology. People who think he should be fired for one mistake have obviously never worked a day in their life.

  31. Clovis says:

    It’s the second night that gets me. He claims he meant Bristol. He also claims that “the next day” people were informing him, angrily, that Willow was the one in NY.

    Why do the Spitzer joke? He had already been informed. It looks malicious. Follow that up with the petty/bitchy first “apology” and I’m seeing a guy who hates Palin so much that he’s become blinded.

    I hear an awful lot about the Limbaugh/Chelsea/Millie thing, but have never seen it. I recall the contretemps contemporaneously (sorry, had to), but remember hearing about it from the Ivins column, which appears to be the only real sourcing. Does anyone have a link to the transcript or some video? Didn’t, and still don’t, much listen to/watch Limbaugh, but I’d like to be sure that we are comparing apples to apples.

  32. James Joyner says:

    I hear an awful lot about the Limbaugh/Chelsea/Millie thing, but have never seen it.

    Way too long ago for Internet linkage and video to be available. I saw the episode at the time and it was fairly innocuous. Some line about the Clinton’s dog and the picture that came up behind Rush was Chelsea. It was mean and Rush apologized the next night (or within a show or three, anyway) and claimed it on a staffer and said he wouldn’t have approved the joke.

  33. G.A.Phillips says:

    Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, a man who’s track record isn’t exactly squeaky clean, who daily spouts venomous borderline racist and sexist remarks, and who has never apologized for anything not even an itty bit, well, the very same people do not show any outrage whatsoever, nor call for his firing. After all, we’re told, Rush is just an entertainer, and can’t you mealy-mouthed liberals take a joke.

    you are an *****, stop spreading lies… ********!

  34. G.A.Phillips says:

    This website/blog has degenerated into an apologia for the Left. I am deleting it from my reading list. Suck up to the Left all you want. I’m outta here.

    lol,Dang…

  35. G.A.Phillips says:

    One thing that annoys me about the Republican bade: they’ll cheer on absolutely vicious humor from people like Coulter, but when something comes back their way, suddenly they want to get a glass jaw about it and start snivelling about offensive everyone is being to them.

    I think you got this backwards……..

    And whats wrong with Coulter telling the truth about liberals and being a smart *** when she does?

    Every liberal that opens it’s mouth does it sept they leave out the truth and their not telling jokes…..

  36. An Interested Party says:

    stop spreading lies…

    Umm…what in that excerpt was a “lie”…

  37. G.A.Phillips says:

    Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, a man who’s track record isn’t exactly squeaky clean, who daily spouts venomous borderline racist and sexist remarks

    “LIE”

    ,

    and who has never apologized for anything not even an itty bit

    “LIE”

    ,

    well, the very same people do not show any outrage whatsoever, nor call for his firing.

    irrelevant Lie about the first LIE

    After all, we’re told, Rush is just an entertainer”

    ,

    LIE” and

    can’t you mealy-mouthed liberals take a joke

    .TRUE.

  38. G.A.Phillips says:

    I’ve listened to Rush for 20 years Ive listened to liberals my whole life, you tell me why Im wrong, and what I don’t know….Go……

  39. An Interested Party says:

    It would be almost impossible to convince a dittohead of the flaws of Limbaugh…but if you really believe that he doesn’t spew offensive words and never apologizes for the outrageous things that he says, who am I or anyone else to try to persuade you to think otherwise…by the way, you should stop taking lessons from “mealy-mouthed liberals” on how (or rather, how not) to take jokes…

  40. MM says:

    John425: This website/blog has degenerated into an apologia for the Left. I am deleting it from my reading list. Suck up to the Left all you want. I’m outta here.

    James Joyner: Letterman Palin Jokes Cross the Line

    Do you require rending of garments or something?

  41. MM says:

    G.A. Phillips :you are an *****, stop spreading lies… ********!

    OK. Justify the following:

    Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.

    The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.

    Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?

    Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.

    Please just dismiss it by calling me a libruhl. Please.

  42. G.A.Phillips says:

    It would be almost impossible to convince a dittohead of the flaws of Limbaugh…

    yuo missed this part–>

    Ive listened to liberals my whole life

    Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.

    The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.

    Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?

    Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.

    MM, are you the brown one?

    lol, do you have what he was talking about or just some libruhl misquotes……

    Why don’t you tell what he was talking about instead of showing me a fresh picked Basket of cherry……

    you should stop taking lessons from “mealy-mouthed liberals” on how (or rather, how not) to take jokes…

    used to be one and dint ill tell you how jokes worked……

  43. An Interested Party says:

    re: G.A.Phillips June 18, 2009 08:11

    It’s not surprising that you feel the way you do…after all, you were the one who typed elsewhere that being a Christian should be a prerequisite for holding public office…

  44. G.A.Phillips says:

    you were the one who typed elsewhere that being a Christian should be a prerequisite for holding public office…

    ya like it used to be……

  45. An Interested Party says:

    Grow up and enter the 21st century…such religious bigotry has no place in public discourse…