Dave Steps in It

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 10:31 AM

We can spend a lot of time debating whether comedians go overboard, as we did during the Wanda Sykes flap, but to me, this one ain't close.

David Letterman went too far.

And he belatedly seems to recognize that.

Sarah Palin is fair game for most kinds of mockery, from Tina Fey's "I can see Russia from my house" to harsher fare. But not her kids. Her kids ought to be off-limits.

It was bad enough that Letterman compared Palin herself to a "slutty flight attendant." That was pretty sexist, but at least the governor was the target.

But then Letterman talked about Palin taking her 14-year-old daughter to a Yankees game and cracked that during the seventh inning, "her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

He was at it again Tuesday night, saying the toughest part of Palin's visit to New York "was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter."

Palin denounced the jokes in a statement to Fox News, saying: "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/N.Y. 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."

Dave expressed regret on last night's "Late Show," but not all that much. He said he was joking about 18-year-old Bristol (who did get pregnant), not 14-year-old Willow (even though it was Willow, not Bristol, who accompanied Sarah Palin to New York).

"I would never think it was funny," Letterman said, to joke about a 14-year-old. (The four years make such a big difference?)

Letterman's one concession: "Am I guilty of poor taste? Yes. Did I suggest that it was okay for her 14-year-old daughter to be having promiscuous sex? No." Then he invited Palin on the show.

My question is this: If a conservative comedian had made such jokes about, say, Chelsea Clinton when she was a teenager, wouldn't the media establishment have demanded an apology? Instead, the reaction was more "tee hee, look what that naughty Letterman said."

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