Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

UPDATE-Confused David Letterman backs down over Palin daughter jokes

June 11, 2009

Talk show host David Letterman says he was “guilty of poor taste” after causing a stir with some sexually suggestive jokes about one of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s teenage daughters, admitting he confused 18-year-old intended target Bristol Palin with her 14-year-old sister, Willow. The comedian’s 7-minute-plus discussion of the controversy during his Wednesday show can be seen on the video link below:




Todd Palin, the governor’s husband, has accused Letterman of making a joke about someone “raping” his younger daughter. Neither girl was directly named in the original joke, which also namechecked New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

Letterman responded, “I would never, ever make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened.” The comedian also invited the governor to appear on his show, but suggested she leave Todd at home.

Here’s the update. On Friday, Palin was back on the attack against Letterman. She told Matt Lauer of the “Today” show on NBC that, “You and anybody else are extremely naive to believe that very convenient excuse of David Letterman’s the other day.” By that, Palin meant Letterman’s statement that he was joking about Palin’s 18 year-old daughter, whose pregnancy was widely commented on last year, and not her 14 year-old daughter, Willow. The full video link is below:


A publicist for Letterman’s show on Friday declined to comment on Palin’s latest criticism.

Also on Friday, New York Assemblyman Brian Kolb, a Republican, sent a letter to Leslie Moonves, the president and chief executive of CBS Corp, asking him to fire Letterman over the comments. “Mr. Moonves, as a proud father and husband yourself, I ask you to consider what sort of message is sent when an employee of the corporation you lead is allowed to make such disrespectful remarks about women?” Kolb wrote.

So the controversy continues. It’s not the first time that Letterman has had to eat his words. Last year, he apologized to celebrity heiress Paris Hilton, after he badgered her in a previous appearance with questions about her time in jail.


We agree that Letterman spoke in complete stupidity and should be ousted from the Letterman Show–we will boycott CBS and the Letterman Show–he is totally disgusting and not funny

Posted by Russ and Linda Saunders | Report as abusive

so where were the conservatives when tons of nasty jokes were being made about hillary clintonsheesh, they want to complain about double standards?

Posted by BRG | Report as abusive

While Letterman was certainly guilty of bad taste – what kind of pervert automatically assumes the joke was about the 14 year old? Palin is using her children again so she can fake outrage and get attention.

Posted by Stewart Reed | Report as abusive

David Letterman should be ashamed of himself. Sexually explicit remarks are not appropriate about teens of any age – especially from someone as old as Letterman is. He thinks because Bristol is 18, his remarks are okay. No, they are not! He needs to apologize to the teens, the Palin family, and his viewers. A real apology this time!

Posted by Gail Monroe | Report as abusive

Ya know, I just don’t believe that Dave “didn’t know” what he was saying. He knew or he SHOULD have known. To do a driveby at the expense of someone else isn’t funny no matter who does it or who it’s about. Everyone was respectful over Dave’s houseguest problems and he wasn’t the butt of any jokes about that. So why should any of us just accept his explanation about the Palin issue? I don’t accept it, I think that it’s Dave’s hate for all things Conservative and the media will probably give him a pass over it too. Disgusting Dave, simply disgusting.

Posted by R | Report as abusive

I’ve tuned out Letterman a long time ago, I used to really enjoy the show. But, found it to be unfunny and I drifted to other late night shows.This latest stunt confirms that Letterman is not worth going back to see if the show has improved.I’m sure he will lose even more people with these stunts. It’s clear he’s trying to attract ratings, but this is pretty weak.

Posted by Dean B | Report as abusive

Palin is a joke so it’s very strange that she can’t take one.

Posted by P Henry | Report as abusive

The jokes were clearly at the expense of Elliot Spitzer and Alex Rodriguez, respectively, and not at the expense of either of Gov. Palin’s daughters (other than to suggest that the daugher was attractive). The real issue: conservatives are still bitter at Letterman’s perceived influence in the campaign when he ran down McCain for failing to honor an appearance on his show. We have yet to see Sarah Palin let an opportunity for media exposure pass her by.As for this ridiculous article, Dave did not back down and was not confused. He did not admit he confused the daughters, and his jokes clearly were directed towards Bristol, who was “knocked up” and of a similar age to the escort that brought down Spitzer.

Posted by Charles | Report as abusive

The headline says that David “backed down” over the Palin jokes. It didn’t sound like backing down to me. It sounded like excusing or justifying them to me; and “bad taste” is not nearly strong enough to describe how abominable they were. I will not watch the Letterman show and I will not patronize the sponsors until he makes a “real” apology and I urge everyone else to do likewise.

Posted by maquignon | Report as abusive

Ok, Dave made a mistake and apologized. Whadda ya know, Palin was finally right about something.Dave really meant his jokes to be about the Governors 18 year old daughter. Apparently jokes about her are OK.Of course, if Palin didn’t parade her children around during the campaign, no one would be able to use any of her children for cheap laughs. Now of course they’re fair game, with Bristol Palin as the poster child for Alaska’s “Just Say No” campaign.

Posted by Owat Agoosiam | Report as abusive

Sure, Letterman’s comments were in bad taste. But, this is a society that thrives on bad taste. Have you watched any TV lately? If you want good taste, don’t watch TV.As far as Todd Palin’s hysteric comment about “raping” his daughter, I didn’t hear Letterman say anything like that. The Palin’s need to relax. If they don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen. They’re the ones who are stoking up controvery here. It’s Dave’s job to be irreverant and controversial.

Posted by Bill P. | Report as abusive

I hear scores of disgusting “jokes” about Hillary Clinton and any number of other non-right-wing women and men on every single right-wing talk radio show. It is as the person wrote above: fake outrage.This is the same old phony moral outrage we’ve seen since these so-called conservatives first found a voice on talk radio. They will do anything to get airtime.

Posted by Fus | Report as abusive

I think Letterman should stop making excuses, whether he meant the 18 yr. old Palin daughter or the 14 yr. old. The words that came out of his mouth were disgusting and perverted. Frankly, I can not stand this man anymore, because in the name of humor he has stained good comedy.He did not apologize. I wish he would face up to his mistake, apologize like a mature intelligent adult and not invite Sarah Palin on his show to attempt to make this right. IF I were Sarah Palin, and I am not a fan of her’s politically, I would not go near his studio, much less be on his show. She has not reason to make him feel better, wh ich is why he is inviting her. It has nothing to do with his admitting his mistake and trying to make it up to her.

Posted by Vicky | Report as abusive

C’mon right-wingers. It was fine for Rush to smear a teenage Chelsea Clinton, remember? He made a joke about the White House dog and then showed her picture on his short-lived TV show.Besides, this joke was clearly about her daughter that had already had underage sex (and is now on a wonderfully hypocritical “abstinence” tour). You made your bed, Sarah, so shut up and sleep in it. Advocating ignorance is paying you back.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I feel that David Letterman stepped over the line in his comments in regards to Sarah Palin and it was an attack on the Palin family. There was no apology and there was no confusion. There are politicians that I do not like but to ridicule them is not appropriate and especially to drag their children into the mess.


Where was Palin’s taste when she gave an interview to a reporter with somebody chopping off chickens’ heads in the background. Or when went on a rampage against the nations’ recovered wolf populations and her promotion of their slaughter by sniping at them from a plane and chopping off their paws. Palin acts like a cruel undeducated trollop in general and I feel sorry for her daughters.. they are beyond recovery.

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

David Letterman let himself down way more than he did Palin’s daughter. When you throw dirt, you only loose ground under yourself. If Ms. Palin were a leftist, he would have left her alone. I cannot beleive how low people are willing to go to put forward the political agenda that suits them the most.I saw Letterman a year or so ago with O Reiley and when he was asked how he felt about the war Letterman hedged. When O Reiley pressed, Dave stated that he needed to think about the subject, he stated that he always “thinks through these kind of hard issues” What a load of crap that was. Unless he has a tic tac for a brain, which he does not, he had already thought through the war opinion. Why not be “thoughtful” and earnest?He needs to remember that he is a part of the compassionate party.C. DitlefsenBremerton WA

Posted by Colleen | Report as abusive

Conservatives outraged? Give me a break. Where were they when they went into Iraq and blamed 9/11 on Hussein, WMDs, jokes by Bush about “no WMDs here, nope, none here either.” You conservatives are done so pick up your ball and go home.

Posted by Gary D | Report as abusive

Letterman is a tired, boring old man with little humor left. He targeted an innocent 14 year old child for a cheap laugh. I think anyone who values protecting children, especially young girls for old sleazy men like Lettermen, should make a point to stop watching this moron any longer.

Posted by D Randy | Report as abusive

I had been a fan of the tonight show through the years of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, but even before this Palin incident I had sworn never to see the Letterman version.What humor anyone would derive from David Letterman’s various twistings and indecencies is beyond me. He is a slob, with programming aimed at fellow slobs.

Posted by William D. | Report as abusive

If she can’t stand the heat, maybe she should go back to the kitchen. If the GOP didn’t have a policy of NEVER, EVER admitting any misjudgment of any kind ever, she would have just gone away by now. So we’re stuck with her shrill hysteria, at least until her next defeat, because the Republicans can’t admit she was a cynical, unjustifiable choice in the first place.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

To those commenters suggesting that Letterman’s jokes were about 18-year old Bristol, and not 14-year old Willow, I’ve got news for you–only 14-year old Willow was at the Yankees game to which Letterman referred. Sorry, but Letterman made a disgusting joke, and even now is not man anough to own up.

Posted by Thomas Reimel | Report as abusive

The fact is if Letterman said this about Obama’s daughters, Chelsea Clinton, or someone else on the Democratic side, he would have been fired by now or at least suspended for a very long time….No question there is a HUGE double standard when it comes to making below the belt jokes about politicians depending on their political affiliation.If it’s a Republican or a conservative that is on the receiving end, everyone, espeically the left wing liberal media, thinks it’s funny; if it’s a democrat, a minority, or a liberal, that same crowd would be screaming bloody murder….

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Mr. Letterman is a has-been who is doing anything to improve his ratings. I’m not real sure why he believes a 61 year old man can make inane sexual comments about teen-agers and think it is OK. His explanation, “I was talking about the 18 year old” makes about as much sense as Senator Edwards saying “I only committed adultery when my wife was in remission”. Neither excuse makes any sense. David, do a real apology without qualifications. You messed up.

Posted by Glenn | Report as abusive

Obviously the joke was targeted at the 18 year old who actually did manage to get knocked up. To conclude it was about the 14 year is either moronic or affected (for the purpose of stirring up the outrage that plays so well to the anger-core of whatever is left of the republicans)I’m not saying Letterman is funny…never been a fan.But this is comperable, even less vicious than some of the stuff right wing blowhards have come up with over the Clintons and Obamas. It is certainly better justified–because again, she really did manage to get knocked up out of wedlock. (not that I have any problems with that–although keeping the kid…that is questionable)

Posted by elc | Report as abusive

Frankly, I forgot Sarah Palin had a 14 year old daughter and maybe Letterman did too. And where the protestors are getting a rape reference from, I do not know.

Posted by Mary Anne | Report as abusive

If Palin’s daughters are fair game, so are Obama’s. Do you seriously think Letterman would have made a similar joke about A-Rod statutorily raping either of Obama’s daughters?The deeply disturbing thing about this entire situation is that no one seems to think there’s something wrong with making filthy comments about women. So much for the liberal’s notion of feminism and equality, eh?Playboy can publish an article describing in great detail how liberal men fantasize about raping specific conservative women, Sarah Palin and her daughters have been the target of comments so vile they can’t be published — comments proudly worn on T-shirts by supposed feminists, and Letterman can oh-so-glibly toss off a few rape jokes about a little girl just because he doesn’t like her mother’s politics. Then, of course, we have that sniggering, tittering oaf, Keith Olbermann repeatedly likening the phrase “tea party” to a vile and repulsive phrase describing an equally vile and repulsive (and degrading to women) sexual act on television.I can only suppose the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of liberal men are the sort who allow that kind of behavior and that kind of talk in their presence. I can only suppose Letterman’s and Olbermann’s female family members are those sort of women. I can only suppose they are raising their own children to be dirty mouthed, dirty minded, sexually objectifying, immoral, vulgar, dishonorable men just like themselves.The world is watching. The world is getting an eyeful of what liberals are really all about. I’d sure hate to be a Democrat running for office any time soon…

Posted by Nora H. | Report as abusive

letterman is so overtly far-left leaning politically, that for most intelligent viewers, he has become downright unwatchable. add to that his anti-social personality, his meanspiritedness, his ego-centric and delusional self-importance, and his basic inability to draw out the best in his guests, and you’ve got a product that will soon be in the toilet – where it indisputably belongs.i grew up with letterman and very much enjoyed his early and intermediate years, but he has become a very disturbed individual. he needs to hang up his pencil and call it a day. incidentally, the pencil is the only thing he has in common with johnny carson, the genius of late night comedy and entertainment, who will NEVER be matched.

Posted by gilda | Report as abusive

Mary Anne-fyi- sex between a 14 year old girl & an older man is, by definition,rape. You can look it up if you’d like.

Posted by William Post | Report as abusive

1. Dave said he did not aim the joke at the 14 year old.2. Palin needs to retract and acknowledge that or it’s Slander on her part.3. From the start – I never believed Dave aimed the joke at a 14 year old – and neither does anyone else in their right mind!4. Palin’s daughter’s “off-color behavior” came first; but Palin blames Dave for humoring it… that is called enabling-mom!5. Palin moralizes democrats mercilessly about so called conservative family values … they strutted their children on the public stage.. for political gains. They should be fair now and Let us laugh at their family’s failings….even though I am sure it hurts a little.

Posted by Ryan Heart | Report as abusive

So, let me get this straight. Letterman’s “apology” included another recitation of the “jokes.” Yeah, funny stuff, old man. Keep going for the laugh at the expense of people’s feelings. Look, I couldn’t care less who is doing the joking. If Limbaugh made a crude/rude joke about Chelsea Clinton (as stated by a different commenter), then he’s a slob for doing so.Would Letterman want comedians making jokes about your son? How ’bout when he’s 14 (or 18), would you dig that? Besides, Letterman quit being funny a long time ago, so the “jokes” about Palin were immature and stupid. Finally, can you imagine how much fur would fly if he started making jokes about Michelle Obama? The Letterman Show would cease to exist. And, in the words of Martha Stewart, “That would be a good thing.”

Posted by Anne | Report as abusive

It is so sad that even though you apologize,the damage has been done. I can’t beleiveyou could say such a thing about Sarah Palin’sdaughter. I hope no one ever says anythinglike that about your child. I have no respectfor you whatsoever.

Posted by wanda grant | Report as abusive

Well, this all started when the Republican National Convention gave Bristol and Levi a standing ovation for their teenage irresponsibility. Palin actually used the pregnancy to showcase her allegedly superior morality, remember? She’s the one who chose to cynically grandstand about her anti-choice views to cater to the anti-birth-control, anti-sex-education, anti-intellectual right.The humor of the talk show hosts has always been about puncturing that sanctimony and hypocrisy. Granted, this particular joke would have been right at the edge of acceptability had it been clearly about Bristol. Since it was the younger daughter at the game, it backfired badly. Yet still, Palin comes across as the same celebrity-seeking grandstander she’s always been with her over-the-top response.

Posted by Sportin' Life | Report as abusive

WOW-I posted a couple of suggested Obama wife & daughters jokes & they disappeared in less than 30 seconds!They contained not one profanity!What double standars??????

Posted by William Post | Report as abusive

What is truly repugnant and moronic about Letterman’s response is his assertion that it is quite OK to slander an 18 year old girl just because she got pregnant with her boyfriend. It is tragic isn’t it that a misfiring trail of sperm never sticks to a man as much as it does to a woman. What a pathetic misogynist this guy is.

Posted by Vick Gower | Report as abusive

Letterman is a creepy, dirty old man

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

6. If somebody wisecracked Dave’s kid, I bet he would teach his kid to rise above it and not play the toxic victim card! That’s the price of celebrity. Palin is not wise to delay this lesson.

Posted by Ryan Heart | Report as abusive

There is good reason he never made the tonight show host.

Posted by ddr | Report as abusive

As a longtime Dave fan, I will say I cringed when I heard those jokes and felt they were in poor taste, even if directed at the 18-year-old Bristol. Having said that, I think the calls for boycotts and firing him are WAY overreacting. We are so ready in this day and age to require ultimate punishment for any mistake.Let’s take this in the context of Dave’s 30+ years being on TV. Is it really his style to make explicit jokes about children?? Of course not… While he can be edgy (which I personally like), he is not the type of person who uses incendiary or offensive humor, and his actions as a whole seem to point to him being a pretty decent guy. If you had a longtime friend who made a bone-headed remark, would you immediately cut off all ties? Or could you not just say, “What were you thinking??”, ask them to clarify / apologize and move on?

Posted by Kelly | Report as abusive

She is in the public eye………….deal with it. I am tired of her whining. She can’t take the heat!

Posted by nancy | Report as abusive

The real jokes are Palin and her idiot daughter. After all, who with even a shred of intelligence can blame Brisol’s former paramour from backing out. I mean, could any halfway rational person imagine, without cringing, being married to this spectacular moron, and in addition, having Palin for a mother-in-law?Worse yet, could any halfway intelligent person for even a moment think Letterman was joking about Willow? It just goes to show what lengths Repubs are willing to go in hopes of gaining political advantage.And worst of all, Palin stands out like a sore trunk re. how she symbolizes the mental illness afflicting today’s GOPsters (who have dragged their party down into being the least credible of any ever known in America).They are eager to say or do anything to gain political advantage for their slave masters: The wealthy and the those who favor authoritarian government.As such, they mark themselves as demons in human disguise and deserve only contempt from decent people.

Posted by No Bullroar | Report as abusive

Letterman is great. He makes me laugh! Who needs the tonight show when you have the late show!

Posted by Dana | Report as abusive

Ryan Heart, your 1-5 reasons for Letterman’s joke being fair game disgusts me. Palin did not parade her family around at the convention. She simply had them there. Was she supposed to hide her daughter back home? I thought we as a nation had progressed a little more than that. Perhaps before making such a disgusting comment, Letterman’s big and well paid staff could do a little more research about which daughter was at the game. Either way, I find the “jokes” in horrible taste. The top 10 reasons Letterman isn’t funny? Here’s one of them.

Posted by JT | Report as abusive

There was obviously an egregious error on the part of the writers that provide Mr. Letterman with his material. I would suspect that Mr. Letterman wasn’t aware that the younger Palin was in attendance of the game.I am very disappointed in who ever made the statement “Plus, it would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman.” This is borderline slanderous and discouraging.One would think that it is necessary to understand in order to forgive. Apparently there is no understanding on the Palins aids part.Perhaps the aids have considered this to be advantageous media attention and feel it necessary to fan the flames to garner further coverage. Play with fire and get burned kiddies. Remember the golden rule, do unto others……

Posted by Charles U | Report as abusive

Guilty of poor taste? Are you kidding me? Time to fire the old man. Just sold all of CBS shares and time to short the stock. This stuff has to end. With all the crimes against children happening every day, this type of talk and acceptance as humor has to stop.I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it anymore!!!

Posted by Susan | Report as abusive

What’s the matter with these people who think it wasn’t okay if Letterman directed the “joke” to a 14 year old, but it is okay if the comment was directed to an 18 year old just because she had a baby out-of-wedlock, she’s already had sex, and/or her mother is a public figure? What’s the matter with these people who think it’s “no big deal” to make a comment like that in front of millions of viewers, call it a “joke”, and/or say the Palins should just get over their whining? I’m pretty sure the Palin children didn’t have much control over their mother’s decision to be a public figure. Who cares if you’re a conservative or a liberal! What happened to just plain old common decency? What happened to just plain old human kindness? Can’t David Letterman find humor in something other than destroying someone’s dignity or at someone else’s expense? Does anyone remember the mean-spirited mother who posed as a boy online, resulting in a teenage girl committing suiside? Would they change their tune if this incident turned tragic rather than “humorous” in their eyes? Have we, not only as a society but as human beings, sunk so low? I do find some comfort that the majority of those who commented on this find it despicable and reprehensible. Wonder how Dave would have felt if a comedian (I use that word loosely) made a comment like that about his daughter just because he’s a public figure and/or they disagreed with his polical views?

Posted by TKing | Report as abusive

dumb dave…shaking head and bitch slappin ya, STFU and retire while you still have about 8 fans, you are just 3 ahead of chris dodd, the idiot in CT that had just 4 people contributet to his campaign, and he is a senator..shows ya, you can be famous and incompetent with the help of a handful of idiots

Posted by zapperz | Report as abusive

They fired Imus for shooting of his mouthwhy doesn’t Letterman get the same done to him?Who does he think he is?I wouldn’t watch him if he were the only thing left to watch.How would he like it if someone were cracking jokes about his kids?


Very disappointed in Letterman…are you really raising yourson??? Enough of you…thanks for reminding me about the kindness around me…


Letterman can’t even apologize properly. He didn’t confuse anything. He knew Palin’s 14 year old daughter was at that game. He’s a disgrace and the Station should FIRE HIM! Actually, I hope that he gets sued from the Palin family and also that ballplayer sues him for Defamation.

Posted by Mrs. H | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see