The TV Column: Lisa de Moraes on the 'Late Show' Letterman-Palin Spat

(By Evan Agostini -- Associated Press)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 12, 2009

"CONAN THE NEW KING OF LATE NIGHT," NBC blared in a news release yesterday when the final numbers for Conan O'Brien's first week as host of "The Tonight Show" finally came in.

Sadly, NBC got drowned out by the media howling over Conan's late-night rival David Letterman, who on Wednesday night had thumbed his nose at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her crack about the "sexually perverted comments" (a.k.a. "jokes") he'd made on his show Monday night.

After lying low last week while Conan unveiled his version of "The Tonight Show," Letterman let loose this week with cracks about Palin's visit to his home town of New York City.

An "awkward moment" for Palin had occurred during her visit, Letterman said, when "her daughter was knocked up by [Yankees third baseman] Alex Rodriguez" during the seventh inning of the baseball game she and her family were attending.

Letterman did not specify which of Palin's daughters he had in mind. Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, is an unwed mother. But Palin implied she believed the reference was to her 14-year-old daughter, Willow, who was at the game with her parents, according to press reports.

Tuesday afternoon, Palin, as well as her husband, Todd, issued statements about the gag.

"Laughter incited by sexually-perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood/NY entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands -- that acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone's daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others."

We'll give you a minute to reread that statement; it's pretty dense.

Anyway, the next night, Wednesday, Letterman rolled around in the Palins' reax like a pig in mud, making more national headlines in the process.

"I am not a celebrity," Letterman deadpanned. "I'm 62 years old, but I'm not a celebrity."

He called the joke "an act of desperation, to get laughs -- which is what I've been doing the last 30 years."

But, Dave pointed out, serious now, "these are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl."

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