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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Many Saw the Joke as Letterman Himself

June 22, 2009

There are differing views on whether parents should spank their kids for misbehavior - but most child psychologists agree on one thing - a child should never be spanked out of anger - such an act crosses the line and is considered abusive.

I am reminded of this - by all things - by the recent controversy of comedian David Letterman - who crossed the line by telling a sexist "joke" involving the 14 year-old daughter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Letterman is a liberal when it comes to his politics and much of his "humor" is directed at conservatives - and particularly Governor Palin. No matter Governor Palin is a public person - many consider his "jokes" about the Governor and her family to be sexist, mean spirited, and abusive.

The most recent flap forced the comic to apologize to the Palin family for one of his jokes - but only after protests and demonstrations calling for his firing outside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York (where Letterman tapes his show) gained widespread support among viewers. 

Some of the protestors held signs referring to Letterman as a "dirty old man" and worse. CBS felt the heat, too, when financial sponsors of the Letterman show (including Olive Garden restaurants) began pulling their advertisements.

A worried Letterman tried to explain the "joke" and blamed the public for misunderstanding the punch line. The comic claimed he was not referring to Governor Palin’s 14-year old daughter Willow as the one being "knocked up" in the joke - but Palin’s 18 year-old daughter Bristol.

Oh sure, that makes sense.

For the record, the Letterman joke was: During a recent trip to New York - the Governor’s daughter (he didn’t identify which daughter) was "knocked up" by baseball player Alex Rodriguez during the 7th inning at New York’s Yankee Stadium. News reports previously identified 14 year-old Willow as the daughter who accompanied her mom to the game.

Late night political humor is usually funny - but rarely has a political joke resulted in such an outpouring of protests against a comic - and for good reason - 14 year-old girls should be off limits.

Some may remember that it was two 1970's incidents involving former Congressmen that started the comic trend toward political humor.

As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep.Wilbur Mills (D-Ark) was a powerful member of Congress. Early on the morning of October 9, 1974, Mills was pulled over by the U.S. Park Police for a traffic violation.

As officers approached the car, a local stripper - identified as Fanne Fox - leaped from the car and ran into the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. Mills blamed the incident on his alcoholism - but comedians never looked back on political humor.

A couple of years later - the Chairman of the House Administration Committee - Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) made front-page news when it was revealed that his secretary - Elizabeth Ray - was also his mistress.

Tonight Show host Johnny Carson had a field day on the show when Ms. Ray told the nation, "I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone."

Carson went on to poke fun at politicians for the remainder of his television career - including former Senator Gary Hart, former Vice President Dan Quayle, the Kennedy family as well as his good friends, Nancy and former President Ronald Reagan. Yet Carson never let his personal opinions or political affiliations be known, and his humor was never personal or sexist.

Some do enjoy Letterman’s style of humor and he’ll continue to have a strong following. Let’s hope abusive remarks about teenage girls are not part of the act.