David Letterman – a man whose talent for serious conversation is so often subsumed by the fact that he is employed as a kind of circus ringmaster, dependent on advertising revenue to stay on the air: he lives in the irony that he only gets to have an audience if he doesn’t sound too intelligent – apologised last night for his offensive joke about Sarah Palin’s family. Unequivocal, and evidently with real personal intent. It’s not world peace; but it’s a pretty good example of what can happen when powerful people are humble too.
See the apology here. It’s a pity the Huffington Post editors felt they needed to indulge in some sour-graping by highlighting how many other people had made jokes about Governor Palin, and how she may be have invited such humor by jokes and set-ups on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in which she was complicit. Letterman’s apology should be allowed to stand alone. It’s clear, it’s truthful, and it deserves a response.
UPDATE: Palin has accepted the apology, and while she makes some meaningful points about respect and dignity, alas she couldn’t miss the opportunity to indulge in a bit of sabre-ratlling:
“This is all thanks to our U.S. military men and women putting their lives on the line for us to secure American’s right to free speech,” she said. “In this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect.”
The use of the military analogy is a pity; instead of taking the high road, accepting the apology on its own terms, and building bridges by – say – appearing on the show, Governor Palin turned it into a subtle attack: everyone who makes coarse jokes is doing so because soldiers are dying for their right to do so. Enormous existential questions have, as Groucho might say ‘gotta be faced before they get us’; but sometimes an apology is just an apology; and accepting an apology is better done without the nationalism and moralising.