But let's be honest; his remarks about Sarah Palin and her daughter were stunningly inappropriate. Moreover, they represent a sort of misogynistic tendency that media elites have come to embrace -- at least, when it comes to conservative women.
Ultimately, Letterman's comments -- he made a reference about a Palin daughter being "knocked up" by New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez -- are not what most concerns me, though. I'm more interested in the hypocrisy regarding the lack of outrage. Both sides get beat up in this business, but over-zealous attackers tend to get a pass when their victims are conservatives. That's not the case when the victim is a liberal.
For example, back in 2008, when MSNBC's David Shuster made a passing comment about the Clintons "pimping out" Chelsea, you would have thought he had committed an unpardonable sin. Admittedly, his "street" language was crude, but the intent was merely to imply that the Clintons were using Chelsea to get publicity. That's it.
Our culture has embraced this sort of gangster lingo. For better or worse, it has gone mainstream -- so Shuster's comments, in that context, were not terribly shocking to anyone who watches television.
Conversely, Letterman did not merely use a clumsy analogy to spice up a political conversation -- he crudely and intentionally attacked Palin and her daughter. Yet, while Shuster was under intense pressure to apologize, Letterman's only real critics seem to be the Palins and conservative bloggers.
Shuster apologized; Letterman won't. (last night, he almost apologized for confusing Bristol Palin with younger sister Willow -- not for the comments, themselves).
The message is simple: Attacking Hillary and Chelsea was off limits, but attacking a conservative woman is just fine.
Of course, some conservative groups will do their best to encourage CBS to at least take a stand on this issue (fat chance).
For example, Team Sarah released this statement today:
"The prevalence of contempt and personal attacks hidden behind the cloak of humor is part of the reason why so many Americans have become cynical about involvement in public life," said Team Sarah Co-Founder Marjorie Dannenfelser. "As a mother of five, three of them daughters, I can't think of anything less funny than sexual jokes about underage girls. A generally understood rule of politics is that the children are off-limits. Why are Palin's children an exception? I urge Americans to continue to call and write CBS to express their displeasure until Letterman delivers a true apology or is suspended from the air."
Some will undoubtedly make the point that Letterman is merely a comedian, and that we should all "lighten up." Of course, Rush Limbaugh has been labeled merely an "entertainer," but that that doesn't stop the media from being outraged by his routine on a regular basis.
... And wasn't Michael Richards merely a comedian?
Richards' racist tirade at an LA comedy club, as you may recall, did not originally occur on national television, yet he was rightfully pilloried and pressured into making the perfunctory apology.
Let's be intellectually honest -- if you think Shuster's line was outrageous -- and that Richards' racist comedy routine crossed the line -- shouldn't you be equally outraged by Letterman's disturbing "comedy" routine?... Or do you think it's okay to mock Palin because she's a conservative?