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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Letterman beat Conan's Tonight Show in the ratings on Tuesday, but that's been lost in the controversy over a pair of borderline Palin family jokes from Monday night. The "slutty flight attendant" line, though certainly uncalled for, seems to me equivalent to the sorts of things that are said about the Clintons and the Kennedys—uncool, that is to say, but roughly commensurate with the price of fame. The "knocked up by Alex Rodriguez” thing strikes me as significantly worse because celebrity children who are underage or don't seek the spotlight should, I think, be left alone, even in the otherwise unrestrained pursuit of comedy. (I think I'd probably feel differently in Letterman had been in a comedy club or on a college campus somewhere; the Chelseas and Bristols of the world shouldn't have to see themselves mocked on TV.)

The idea currently shooting around the right-wing blogs that this was a joke about raping a fourteen-year-old girl, though, strikes me as a completely hysterical overreaction. There's no remotely charitable reading of the situation that suggests the phrase "her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez" would ever be intended to trigger thoughts of Willow Palin. (To whit: Instapundit.) That it was Willow and not Bristol at the game is certainly bad luck for Dave, and I wouldn't have blamed Sarah Palin for getting in a jibe or two about it, but that fact is not something either the audience or Dave himself can reasonably be believed to have been thinking of. You can call Letterman out for crossing the line without turning things all the way to 11.