Palin and the Media
David Letterman’s comments about Sarah Palin’s daughter were undeniably in bad taste. Jokes about fourteen-year-old Willow Palin are clearly outside the pale, and even jokes about eighteen-year-old Bristol, while less offensive, still push the boundaries of taste and decency. While Bristol is of age, and something of a public figure (aside from her mother’s political involvement, she has given speeches and appeared on television), she does not court the spotlight, and hasn’t done anything newsworthy for quite some time.
Everyone knows about Letterman’s joke—that Willow, while in New York, would be propositioned by Eliot Spitzer and seduced by Alex Rodriguez. Letterman says that his intended target was Bristol, and I believe him, since the joke wouldn’t be funny unless it was.
And Palin responded angrily, accusing Letterman of joking about the statutory rape of her daughter and forcing him to apologize twice while leveling veiled accusations of pedophilia. Her outrage was understandable—whatever Letterman’s intentions, his joke ended up being about her young daughter.
Most people have made up their minds about whether Letterman’s joke was unconscionable (it was) and whether Palin’s response was excessive (it was). To me, the most interesting aspect of an overblown and generally unremarkable incident is the media’s attitude towards Palin concerning this incident.
Most would agree that Letterman’s joke was tasteless, and the Palin family was wronged. (Even most liberals seemed to agree with this view). And Palin’s response, if excessive, was at least understandable, given that she was the victimized party.
That wasn’t the media’s view. Palin’s response was worse than the original wrong itself, and served as more proof of her intellectual and moral failings. Andrew Sullivan said, essentially, that Palin had it coming for taking her family on the campaign trail. Keith Olbermann called Letterman “the victim” who “took the high road,” while Palin was “power crazed” and a “delusional lunatic.” Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick allowed that Letterman’s comments were “stupid,” but claimed that Palin’s were “stupider.” All this because Sarah Palin was angered by a vicious and careless joke.
It’s become a conservative cliché to rhetorically wonder what would have happened had a conservative said what Letterman said about a family member of a Democrat. But that misses the point. Letterman would never have made that joke about the daughter of a Democrat. But he also wouldn’t have made the joke about the daughter of any other Republican.
Remember Jenna Bush? She was the target of some late night jokes a few years back, after being arrested for underage drinking and trying to use her grandmother’s ID to buy alcohol. (I wonder how she possibly thought using her grandmother’s ID would work). She came in for her share of jokes—but they stopped quickly, weren’t nearly as cruel or relentless as the jibes about Bristol Palin.
Sarah Palin is different from most Republican politicians. Most Republicans are tolerated by the media, and sometimes even admired (John McCain in 2000 is an example). But liberal media types fear Palin because they think she represents (in a way no other Republican does) the most superstitious, uneducated, and stupid portion of the American people—and they realize that she came very close to becoming the Vice President of the United States.
In the typical liberal mind, Sarah Palin in the Oval Office would be a bad dream come true, as bad as having Rush Limbaugh there. Palin represents liberalism’s worst nightmare: a very conservative politician who is also popular, at least among a niche of the population. They are afraid of the possibility that Palin could win the presidency in 2012, and usher in a new dark age of conservatism. Thus, the wild and hateful comments about Palin. The media doesn’t hate Palin—liberals are afraid of her.