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David Letterman, feeling the heat, apologizes to Palins for sex joke

June 15, 2009 |  7:20 pm

Davidletterman America's long national nightmare is about to come to an end. The feuding is about to stop. There will be peace in our time. The hockey mom is about to get an apology from the 62-year-old talk show guy.

A week has passed since David Letterman told an  off-color joke about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter having sex with a New York Yankee.

The winking mom called foul in several network interviews, but the late-night trailblazer didn't flinch. Until now.

Letterman, perhaps feeling he should savor the fact that his longtime rival has stepped down (and the replacement is slipping in the ratings), also must have realized he was in a no-win situation.

Tonight, he apologized for his not-so-funny joke. "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," the CBS host said during the taping of his show in New York.

"And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself."

It's a long, long, long explanation, concluding in an apology to the governor and two of her daughters. And you can read it all after the jump below.

"All right, here. I've been thinking about this situation with Gov. 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 ballgame?' And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ballgame 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 ballgame. I had no idea she was there. So she's now at the ballgame 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.

"And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer 'Newshour.'  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.

Update [10:38pm]: Below is video from tonight's show:

-- Tony Pierce

Photo of David Letterman, 2002, John Paul Filo / CBS

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