Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letterman's Half @$$ed Apology

David Letterman has been on the hot seat ever since he did a monologue in which he trashed Sarah Palin's 14 year old daughter. Everyone but Letterman himself was appalled that he made misogynist jokes about not only Sarah Palin but about her family as well. Finally, a week later, Letterman attempted what can only be described as damage control. Letterman stuttered and stammered his way through the following statement.

“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 …” (audience applauds) “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."

I tried to wade through the apology. The only reason it sounds real is because it sounds real incoherent. It reminds me of those articles in the National Enquirer where they show movie stars on the street without their make up. Most of them look thoroughly forgettable. Letterman's apology looks like his script writer called in sick. He claims he didn't know he was bashing the 14 year old. He thought he was bashing the 18 year old. He has a team of gag writers and fact checkers. But he didn't know who he was trashing..

‘Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?’

The whole reason you're up there sweating under your stage make up is that you did make a joke like that. And it took a week for one of your sycophants to get through with the message that you had screwed up.

I wish Letterman would have left his apology with what I have just quoted. Unfortunately, he dug the hole a lot deeper. Consider the following conclusion to Letterman's semi coherent babble in front of a live mike.

“And then I was watching the Jim LehrerNewshour’ – 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)


In his "apology", Letterman tries to plea bargain his offense down to telling a bad joke or telling a joke poorly. The crime was not what he said, but the perception. He goes on to say that it was his fault that the joke was misconstrued. In the magic studio of David Letterman, a lapse in common decency became a lapse of comedic skill. Letterman's following words stand for themselves.

"There was one awkward moment during the seventh inning stretch. Her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

I can't think of any way to misunderstand that. Letterman even got a free pass on talking about Palin looking like a "slutty flight attendant". Last time I checked with my feminist friends, calling a woman "slutty" was a major faux pas. But Palin is a Republican, so Letterman gets a pass.

No one should be surprised if the children of political figures are fair game. When George Bush's daughters were caught drinking with a fake ID, the bartender (staunch Democrat, she) called the obliging press to magnify the embarrassment of the first family. Meanwhile, stories about errant Democratic offspring are spiked.

I have had people apologise to me with an approximation of Letterman's words. I'm sorry you were offended by what I said. I immediately answer "I would accept your apology except it is not an apology. You can not apologise for how I feel. You can apologise for what you did or said."

I recall jokes dating back to Nixon about Nixon that were downright filthy. I do not recall any jokes about Carter's daughter or Reagan's children. When a politician jumps into the ring( so to speak), he expects to take a punch. But no one expects someone to jump from the ring and punch his kids. It is beneath contempt. As much as people might enjoy a bare knuckles political fracas, some things are off limits.

David Letterman has revealed a lot about himself. Without his script writer, he is a babbling little twerp. He lacks the decency to apologise for his mistakes. How this will play out in his private like makes for interesting speculation. And his script writers do a poor job of preparing for his show.

I do not plan to watch David Letterman anytime soon, unless I am writing the names of his sponsors for boycott purposes. Why should I want to watch Letterman? Who knows what will crawl out from beneath my flat screen if I do? Sphere: Related Content

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