You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

My Continued Defense Of David Letterman

Victor Davis Hanson has responded to the post I wrote yesterday defending David Letterman from his (and Sarah Palin's) attacks:

The girl at the game with Governor Palin was not 18-year-old Bristol, but 14-year-old Willow. So logically we are to assume that when Letterman refers to Palin and her daughter at a recent baseball game, he means the actual governor and the actual daughter who actually attended it. 

The intent of Letterman's tripartite sexual reference was to suggest that the Palins were synonymous with female promiscuity. (cf. Letterman's further references to the governor's "slutty" look, and remarks about former governor Eliot Spitzer's interest in a Palin daughter, e.g., the "toughest part" of Palin's visit "was keeping former New York governor Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.") 

Cf. that logic: (a) Palin is in N.Y. with her 14-year-old daughter; (b) former N.Y. governor Spitzer was caught visiting a young prostitute. Ergo . . . (c) Sarah Palin will naturally have to "keep" a randy Spitzer away from a likewise randy 14-year-old with dug-out propensities.

I really do think Hanson is thinking too hard about this one. Letterman has said that he wasn't joking about Palin's 14-year-old daughter, Willow, but her 18-year-old daughter, Bristol; and, frankly, I believe him. Why? Because the jokes make no sense if they're not about Bristol. First, Bristol is far and away the most famous of the Palin children; late night comics generally don't tell jokes about people who are obscure, for the simple reason that their audience won't get the jokes. Second, Bristol is famous for her sex life, having had an out-of-wedlock child and now, more recently, becoming a spokesperson for teen abstinence--which is why, for better or worse, any joke about her is likely to be one laced with sexual innuendo.

Yes, it's true (as Hanson emphasizes) that it was Willow, not Bristol, who attended the Yankees game with her mom. But my guess is Letterman was simply confused about which daughter was in attendance. More importantly, I can't imagine many people watching Letterman even knew which Palin daughter was at the Yankee game (it wasn't exactly national news), and, therefore, when they heard the joke, they just assumed the unnamed Palin daughter whom Letterman was joking about was Bristol--since Bristol is the Palin daughter who's not only famous but is famous for the very thing Letterman was joking about.

Indeed, if it weren't for Palin and Hanson and other conservatives making such a big stink about this, no one would be talking about the"statutory rape of . . . Willow"--as Palin herself did on the "Today Show" this morning. I once wondered how Palin, as a mother, could have accepted McCain's offer to be his running mate when she knew that, by doing so, she would subject her pregnant teenage daughter to national attention (and, with that attention, criticism and ridicule). But I'm even more baffled by her behavior here. Even if she does think Letterman was making inappropriate jokes about her 14-year-old daughter, how does it help her 14-year-old daughter to continue to fan the flames this controversy and just call more attention to the jokes? If I was a 14-year-old girl, I sure as hell wouldn't want my mother going on national TV to keep on talking about my hypothetical statutory rape. Contrast Palin's behavior, for instance, with that of Bill Clinton's after Rush Limbaugh and John McCain made nasty jokes about the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of his teenage daughter Chelsea. Clinton was reportedly furious about the jokes, as any father would be, but he didn't make a public spectacle of his anger or try to score political points from the episode. In fact, so far as I can tell, he (and the White House) refused to make any public comment on Limbaugh and McCain's jokes--presumably because doing so would make things even worse for Chelsea. Bill Clinton's name isn't exactly synonymous with family values, but, on this one, I think Palin could definitely stand to follow his example.

Finally, there's the question of whether Letterman's joke, even assuming it was directed at Bristol, was appropriate. Hanson writes:


And when he tried to contextualize it, all he did was make it worse by suggesting that he meant instead Governor Palin's 18-year-old daughter, who recently delivered an out-of-wedlock child.

So follow the additional sick logic there: Having one illegitimate son naturally implies inherent promiscuity of the sort that would send you down to the dugout to have sex with a baseball player or draw in a frequent patron of prostitutes?

I think Hanson has a point here. And, in the past, I've written that the media should leave Bristol (and Levi) alone. The problem, though, is that Bristol (and Levi) won't let the media leave them alone (not, to be sure, that the media necessarily cares about their wishes). When Bristol's mom became John McCain's running mate, Bristol became an involuntary public figure. But in the past few months, as Bristol has done TV interviews and posed for magazine covers and put herself out there as a cautionary tale for what happens to teens who aren't abstinent, she's become a voluntary public figure. And, as such, she's not the typical 18-year-old daughter of a politician. Given all that, while I don't think Letterman's jokes about Bristol were that funny, I don't necessarily think they were out of bounds, either.

--Jason Zengerle

Michelle Cottle disagrees: "While I don't believe Dave is paving the way toward more sexual abuse of minors, I do think he crossed a line in the service of a cruel, slightly sexist, and not particularly funny joke...." Click here to read her whole post.