If Sarah Palin were black, would David Letterman still be employed?

For those who may have forgotten, during the 2008 presidential campaign, former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was subjected to news reports and other coverage that raised the eyebrows of feminists across the nation including one incident where an on-air personality of NBC News asked if the Clintons’ using their daughter, Chelsea, on the campaign trail was akin to them “pimping her out.”

As the legendary race for the Democratic presidential nomination was wrapping up last June, then-Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean derided the sexist media coverage against Clinton telling ABC News’ George Stephanopolous that, “if the words were reversed and they were about race, the people would have been fired.” [Alarkon, Walter (2008-06-01). “Dean derides ‘sexist’ media coverage“. The Hill.]

I don’t disagree. Quite frankly, the sometimes blatantly sexist media coverage of Hillary Clinton frequently bolstered my belief that sexism is more powerful than racism in the United States.

Flash forward to a year later and the controversy surrounding a joke by David Letterman about the daughter of former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Across the nation, people are debating whether Letterman’s crossed the line. Conservative groups –including the Concerned Women for America— blasted Letterman demanding he apologize [Miller, Joshua (2009-06-11). “Women’s Advocacy Group Leader Blasts Letterman’s Jokes About Palin, Calls for Apology“. Fox News.]. And the National Organization of Women (NOW) inducted the CBS late night t.v. host into their “media hall of shame.”

The sexualization of girls and women in the media is reaching new lows these days — it is exploitative and has a negative effect on how all women and girls are perceived and how they view themselves. Letterman also joked about what he called Palin’s “slutty flight attendant look” — yet another example of how the media love to focus on a woman politician’s appearance, especially as it relates to her sexual appeal to men. Someone of Letterman’s stature, who appears on what used to be known as “the Tiffany Network” (CBS), should be above wallowing in the juvenile, sexist mud that other comedians and broadcasters seem to prefer.

Bennett, Lisa (2009-06-11). “Letterman “Jokes” About Palin’s Daughter“. National Organization for Women. Retrived on 2009-06-12.

Last night, a friend of mine inquired of my thoughts about the Letterman controversy. I said it was “over the line.” Then I offered some extemporaneous commentary. I told my friend, who voted for the McCain/Palin ticket by the way, that the inappropriate and tasteless joke by Letterman was “almost the same crap they pulled with Hillary when she was running.”

“All the sexist comments that she [Hillary Clinton] had to put up with,” I said. “There was a double-standard there. If someone said something about Obama that could be twisted into a seemingly racial comment, it was. Yet the sexism displayed towards Hillary was regularly ignored.”

I added, “If Palin were black, Letterman would have Sharpton, the NAACP and every other civil rights group on his back demanding he be fired.”

It’s sad that sexism and sexist comments are increasingly being downgraded and downplayed. But as I said before, I believe sexism is more powerful than racism in the United States.

Now who wants to discuss it?


  1. Bucky Plyler says:

    The “pimping her out” statement is nowhere near what Letterman said. The only reason he can get away with his junk is that it is acceptable for Letterman & NBC to do stuff like this. You’re right, if she were black (particulary a Democrat, since the NAACP wouldn’t rush to her defense any other way) Letterman would not have a job today & would be in sensitivity training tomorrow.

  2. Terran1212 says:

    Better question: If Obama had a knocked up promiscuous daughter instead of good old family lady (and nut) Sarah Palin, would he be President today?

  3. Dash Riptide says:

    Conversely, what if David Letterman were black? Would anyone other than hardcore conservatives rally around Palin as she milks this for all it’s worth?

  4. DonnaC says:

    I agree, because racism usually has a “face,” and it’s black in most cases. Sexism is more nebulous and often can be explained away. You could never say a black person “deserved” the treatment they received, but such as in the case of Governor Palin, she “deserved” it because she’s in the public realm. Now if she were black (and in the public realm), the racial factor would supersede the sexism aspect; and she’d never be treated this way–race trumps gender!

    BTW, I e-mailed the CBS Atlanta affiliate, general manager, about the “joke,” and actually received a reply. He stated, “I agree with you. I was told by the network that David Letterman would be addressing the incident on air. When I saw what his response was I was admittedly disappointed. I share your opinion that his comments were in poor taste and have made my opinions, and the many from our viewers, known to the network.” I’m pleased that he responded so quickly, and I believe he’s probably being truthful. I don’t imagine the affiliates in the Bible Belt are any too pleased at the flack that’s coming their way over this…

  5. Bucky Plyler says:

    I don’t understand why anyone would defend this kind of comment regardless of your political persuasion. Don’t hold your breath until Letterman apologizes or gets fired.

    Terran1212, as far as we know the President hasn’t done what you propose. Other politicians have & still continue to get elected. S. Palin didn’t get knocked up, her daughter did.

    Dash, suppose you were Palin. How woul you handle it?

  6. Dash Riptide says:

    Dash, suppose you were Palin. How woul you handle it?

    If I were Palin I would rip Letterman for what he actually said, without putting words in his mouth.

  7. Bucky Plyler says:

    Fair enough…I’ve raised three daughters…my approach would be way more than both of you !

  8. Better question: If Sarah Palin weren’t desperately seeking to stay in the national spotlight, would this even be worthy of comment? It was a pretty lame joke, but late-night network comedians throw out dozens of similar lame jokes each and every week. Flip to cable channels for comparison, and this one was relatively nothing.

    I’m not really “defending” or “attacking” Letterman, as network television has been too boring to care about for a couple decades now. I’m just saying that this is like walking into a whorehouse, and raising a fuss because they allow smoking in the waiting room.

    There’s not a real “controversy” here… there’s just an underqualified politician whose popularity among the hardcore base stems from being “not John McCain”, and who desperately seeks the spotlight to parlay that into something of substance for 2012. Ironically, it’s the sort of “lightweight celebrity” routine that the Republicans were just ragging Barack Obama about less than a year ago.

  9. ByteMe says:

    I’m with Steve. This is a “made for TV” controversy. Letterman mistakenly thought the “previously knocked-up” daughter was at the game and it was her little sister instead. And Palin just keeps swinging at him hoping she can stay in the news about something… anything!

    She’s a bore. He’s a bore. Who cares!

  10. Andre says:

    The question I’m asking here is whether we are less outraged by sexism than we are of racism.

    It seems as if we are conditioned to dismiss sexism while raising hell over racism.

  11. LONG AND COMPLEX ANSWER: I would argue that sexism is less severe than racism. When looking at the stats, in today’s society women generally DO receive “equal pay for equal work” in the exact same jobs as men. Salaries and advancement may on average be lower because more women than men choose to make family the priority over career at a certain point. This is, of course, highly debatable. However, the question of whether racial minorities “choose” to limit THEIR career advancement is far less debatable.

    SHORT ANSWER: That Don Imus thing? We were just patronizing you. We dismiss both.

  12. Doug Deal says:

    As usual the same people are coming down on the same sides of the same issues. Look for the D and R and then decide what your core beliefs are. Reverse the rolls and those strongly held beliefs switch like an electromagnet with the current flipped.

    Palin is a lightweight; Dave is a hateful unfunny disgusting piece of crap. There was a time that I was a big fan of David Letterman, but he has long sense turned his show into axe grinding and confusing humor with mean spirited insults.
    Plain, she is just trying to milk this for press, and her comments back to Dave were not exactly called for. Some people have class enough to move on, some don’t.

    If you expect people on the opposing side to treat your favorite celebrities with respect and dignity, try demanding it from your own side first.

  13. Dash Riptide says:

    One thing people who are riled up about this don’t want to hear is that in Letterman’s mind he’s just telling yet another lame A-Rod joke. Of course he was oblivious to the fact that Palin actually took her 14 year old to the game and not the one who has already been knocked up. He was inexcusably careless in his assumptions, but Letterman would never knowingly and intentionally joke about an act of child molestation (or accuse A-Rod of being a pedophile for the sake of a joke, for that matter). The joke as he meant it to be taken still crosses the line and Letterman definitely shouldn’t have gone there, but Palin also crosses the line (into Michael Newdow territory) by overplaying her outrage and by using the incident to further her own personal ambitions without due consideration of what’s really best for her daughter(s).

  14. Yeah. In my view, Palin’s suggestions that Letterman is a “dirty old man” and “not to be trusted around teenage girls” were far more reprehensible. Letterman’s joke was dumb and played for laughs. Palin’s line was dumb and played as legit.

  15. Kellie says:

    Steve –
    Women now earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. We do not make the same. Sexism is still a problem. I don’t know if it can be compared to racism because it is different. Women tend to have issues in the work force where men dominate. But a person of color can be a victim of racism anywhere.
    Having said that, I do believe we have come a long way with both and there will always be stupid people making stupid comments.

  16. slyram says:

    Andre: Letterman was dead blank wrong for the part about “slutty stewardess” to me and the one about A-rod knocking someone up was clearly about the older daughter. If his staff knew the younger daughter was the one who attended the game, Letterman should feel the wrath.

    Then again, I would not know because I get my laughs from Colbert, Steward, and Fox News.

  17. Steve,
    This is what Rugby was talking about when he said Libertarians don’t get or know what we’re doing in politics.
    In a way, he’s right. How could we get the masses to have as visceral a response like this about the losing of their liberties?
    Why they (the R’s and D’s) can get people so riled up about something so trivial in the grand scheme of things (remember Imus) and we can’t even get people up in arms when people have their property taken without due process, told what they can and can’t put into their own bodies, taxes raised with minimal justification or suspension of habeas corpus and one’s right to face their accusers, seems to be beyond our capability sometimes.

    Maybe we need to get a comedian to do an off color joke about lost Freedom… in order to give “Liberty” victim status. But how does one do that?

    Or maybe I was right and we shouldn’t even try. We should continue to try to get politics to work the way it should (with good people and good causes that are right), not the way it currently does with distracting spin.

    ps. While you weren’t looking, Congress and the President took away more of your freedoms today.

  18. ByteMe says:

    Andre: to answer your question, I think we’re less “faux outraged” by sexism than we are “faux outraged” by racism.

    I’m more annoyed by people who do racist/sexist things than I am people who say things that are racist/sexist. Should we be faux outraged by Pat Buchanan’s racist comments today? Nah.

  19. macho says:

    I think it would be nice if the NOW gang demonstrated a shred of intellectual honesty and made a statement like this, “From a political standpoint, we disagree with 95% of where Sarah Palin stands on the issues, but nevertheless we think it’s completely chauvinistic, and unacceptable, to degrade successful, professional women into “slutty flight attendants. It sets us back 30 years in the job market.”

    They won’t show any intellectual honesty, because they don’t really care about advancing women per se, they are just shills for the Democrat party.

  20. macho says:

    Could you imagine if Letterman had made the knocked-up comment about one of Obama’s daughters?

  21. What about the slander of poor ol’ A. Rod? Set back hispanics 30 years…. 😉 Letterman must just be another agry white man!

    (I did my serious, now I can do my funny.)

  22. GOPGeorgia says:

    Letterman’s job is safe as long as he is getting ratings. Now if he had said Palin had nappy hair…..

    I doubt that Letterman would make a child molestation joke, unless there was a child molester involved. See Rob Lowe, 1980’s. “Rob Lowe’s got a new movie out: ‘Close Encounters With the Third Grade.’”

    Kellie, I agree that women probably make a little less than men for the same job. I’m not sure if it’s 77 cents on the dollar though. However, is it good manner’s for a woman to stand up when a man enters the room, or for a woman to hold open doors for men, or do most women buy gifts such as flowers and pay for the dates when courting, or my favorite, do they have to buy a diamond for man when asking to marry worth three months salary? Granted, men don’t have to wear an expensive dress, but don’t the father’s of the bride usually pay for that?

    I am not saying I condone sexism, I am just pointing out that women get a few things from it as well.

  23. Kellie says:

    GOPGA – I am no feminist. I want a man to do all those things. It’s when a man belittles a woman that I have a problem.
    The 77 cent per dollar I got of google, not out of thin air.
    Men may be polite towards women but women are working just as hard during the day, making less and going home to do most of the house chores. I’m sorry but opening a door is the least a man can do for the woman in his life.

  24. AKA Progressive Dem says:

    Letterman’s jokes were out of line. The joke that included her daughter was way, way out of line. Palin should be picked on because she is a light weight, not because she is a woman.

  25. GOPGeorgia says:

    I don’t have a problem opening doors and I try to remember to stand up. I was just trying to point out that women get some nice things out of being a woman.

  26. rugby says:

    “This is what Rugby was talking about when he said Libertarians don’t get or know what we’re doing in politics.
    In a way, he’s right. How could we get the masses to have as visceral a response like this about the losing of their liberties?”

    Because people have different priorities.

    Even when trying to make a flippant comment you prove my point.

  27. I like Letterman, but this was a pretty lame joke about a 14 year old.

    As for Steve Perkins comment ” underqualified politician “, we’ve got one in the Whitehouse. He was a “community organizer”…. Furthermore, how many “politicians” are truly qualified? Salesmanship? Sure and that’s what our society only understands. As for Sarah Palin, she seems to be an effective governor. So where’s the beef?

  28. rugby says:

    “As for Steve Perkins comment ” underqualified politician “, we’ve got one in the Whitehouse. He was a “community organizer”…. ”

    That’s not just disingenuous, it is inaccurate.

    I doubt you care however.

  29. John Konop says:

    BTW if you watch the video it is clear the joke was never directed at her 14 year old daughter. The joke was about her 18 year old daughter who did have a child out of wedlock. It was in poor taste but not about a 14 year old.

  30. John Konop says:


    Your racial angle is way off base since Alex Rodriguez was part of the joke. And I have not seen or heard any minority groups outraged about this.

  31. Jane says:

    Respectable black leaders have fought against Hip Hop artists who have dehumanized women for a profit. Even Tipper Gore lead a campaign to reduce the profanity directed again poor usually black women in Hip Hop/Rap music. The same kind of effort needs to be directed at David Letterman as well. This is not political correctness. It is an effort to condemn the ungentlemanly behavior of a pervert. Rape even statutory rape is not a joke.

  32. Dash Riptide says:

    Rape even statutory rape is not a joke.

    Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape. Nobody joked about statutory rape.

  33. John Konop says:


    The joke was tasteless. The joke was about an 18 year old girl who got pregnant when she was 17 years old. The guy who got Palin’s daughter pregnant in some states could have been considered statutory rape and he was promoted and highlighted during the election by Sarah Palin.

    I do not get your logic.

  34. bartsimpsonisdaman says:

    Hey dudes, People need to lighten up a bit. The man’s a comedian. Comedians tell jokes. Sometimes jokes suck.

    Yeah Letterman was probably talking about the 18 year old, but it was big news in NY about the little one being with her. Bad joke. He screwed up. Move on.

    Obama’s my man but I’m getting sick of the media talking bout what a fashion queen Michelle is. Dudes, get real. Michelle needs to go on Extreme Make over and do something abouts that funky shaped mouth. I bet its hard for her to drink out of a cup or straw without a bib. While they’re at it do something abouts they bull legs. Put her on a stair climber to build her calf muscles. That’s one nasty looking heffer.

  35. bartsimpsonisdaman says:

    John you a smart man. I bet you knows everything. How do know David was talking about the 18 year old?

    I don’t get your logic. Sarah is one hot momma.

  36. bartsimpsonisdaman says:

    You saying Sarah is promoting rape. Dude don’t think so. So the the kid made a mistake. Geez not everyone is perfect.

  37. John Konop says:


    I never said Sarah Palin was promoting statutory rape I was merely pointing out the hypocrisy and her willingness to exploit the situation.

    Finally watch the video and listen to the joke. And it was clear to any rational person the joke was direct at her 18 year old daughter which everyone knows got pregnant out of wedlock. This was tasteless but it is only way the joke makes any sense.

  38. bartsimpsonisdaman says:

    She’s one hot momma. Compare her to Hilary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Christy Whitman, Nancy Pelosi, Kay Hutchinson.

  39. Rugby get ready:

    This whole thing is just stupid.

    It was a joke. Connecting it to the mistreatment, over worked and under paid for that work of women, is ridiculous.

    This was a joke about an embarrassing moment during the failed McCain/Palin campaign (that they tried to hide and lie about at first, none the less). It was not an attack on women.

    Wanting to discuss fairness to women and equal treatment in the workplace, valid. Connecting that important issue and this joke… well, is a joke.

    But using it as a political wedge tool… yes, Rugby et. al., I get it… it seems to work (for now)…. and that, my friend, is a shame. But in the long run… I believe people will see it for what it really is… and the GOP (as the Dems, when they do similar) will loose even more credibility… and that I’m OK with. It’s been well earned and is deserved.

  40. macho says:

    For the joke to be funny, doesn’t it have to have some basis in reality. Has A-Rod ever gotten anyone “knocked-up”, I know Letterman has.

  41. macho says:

    What do you think they would be saying about Imus if he made the joke about one of Obama’s daughters. Would he still be on the radio?

  42. Game Fan says:

    The folks who are always deriding the racism or reverse racism always seem to be one step behind. Now some folks don’t agree with fascism or racism or sexism (either in politics or daily life) are way past that stuff. On the other hand the folks who are always crying and moaning are seen as a bunch of weenies.

  43. Game Fan says:

    People seem to have a real short memory. These entertainers go after Democrats and Republicans. At least they’re “fair and balanced” and Sarah Palin can take care of herself. Being a politician, many think she (and all the others) are fair game, even their personal lives if they’re trying to get moral. They work for us in fact and we’d like to know as much about them as possible. If you’re raising a stink about this without raising concern about the “hands off the Bush twins” edict, then there’s a serious credibility gap, not to mention you’ve just joined the “control” camp.

  44. Game Fan says:

    er, maybe that was a bad example, but coming from the PALEO camp some of us can’t see a big difference between some of these Dems and Republicans. Of course the Obama kids haven’t reached the “tabloid” age, but then there’s the “hands off Chelsea” deal which raises some eyebrows seeing as how her activities used to sell lotsa tabloids. And the Kennedys are always in the spotlight, or so it seems. But what many folks are wondering is, when these people enter these Ivy League institutions, they seem to be entering some type of dark cloud of secrecy. Let’s face it. The Bushes, the Clintons and now Obama. The corporate media never goes near the more serious “developmental” years of these Presidents.

  45. Bill Greene says:

    (A) You aren’t allowed to call them “stewardesses” anymore. They’re “flight attendants.”

    (B) The stewardess on my flight back from DC this week looked like Sarah Palin. Whoda thunkit?

  46. bartsimpsonisdaman says:

    Michelle’s nasty ass hairy bow legs are disgraceful.

    We need Roy Barnes, pronto!

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