Letterman Owes Palin a Thank-You

Whether David Letterman owes an apology to Sarah Palin for joking about her daughter or not, he sure should send her and her conservative comrades one big thank-you.

The Letterman-Palin tussle has been under way since the late-night comic cracked that Palin’s daughter got “knocked up” by A-Rod on a recent trip to New York City. He also said that Palin had to keep her daughter away from Elliot Spitzer. Since then, conservatives have been demanding Letterman’s head. Todd Palin accused him of joking about rape. Michelle Malkin has branded Letterman a misogynist and called for CBS to get him a therapist. Team Sarah, a conservative outfit that fancies Palin, has pushed for boycotting Letterman’s advertisers. (“The continual presence of personal attacks on both Governor Sarah Palin and her family indicates that she remains a threat to the liberal political establishment,” huffed Team Sarah cofounder Jane Abraham.) And on Friday morning’s Today Show, Sarah Palin said Letterman ought to apologize to young women across the country. (Letterman offered a jokey explanation, not an apology, after the Palins first complained.)

But Palin and Letterman are helping each other. Earlier this week, Palin was in the news for not being invited to a GOP fundraiser. She also made headlines for not being named one of the GOP’s leaders in a USA Today/Gallup poll. How’s that for lousy press? Now she’s getting attention as a defender of young women and the victim of liberal elitism. And taking on Letterman is a lot easier than talking about health care policy.

But Letterman got the better deal. These days he likely cares about one thing and one thing alone: beating Conan. Last week, Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show at NBC, which once spurned Letterman for this late-night throne. Surely, Letterman must relish the prospect of grinding O’Brien into the ratings dust. And a brawl with Palin can only help when it comes to ratings. Palin is doing Letterman a big favor by keeping the story alive–and by doing so on an NBC show. Folks in TV-land will now have to tune in for another Letterman riposte. Surely, the comic-host can milk his smackdown with Palin for another show or two…or three.

Meanwhile, what’s Conan O’Brien to do? Start a feud with Rosie or Donald? Nah, too retro. Perhaps Michelle Obama ought to watch out.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.