The first problem for David Letterman is the fact that the daughter who attended the Yankees game wasn't new mother Bristol Palin who at 18 has chosen to be a public figure, it was her younger sister, Willow, who is only 14 years old.
[...] during the seventh inning, her [Sarah Palin's] daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.
I believe Letterman's clarification, but his word choice in his second question is telling since it plays on sexual stereotypes about the younger sisters of teen girls who become pregnant.
"We were, as we often do, making jokes about people in the news," Letterman said.
"These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl," he added.
"Am I guilty of poor taste? Yes. Did I suggest that it was okay for her 14-year-old daughter to be having promiscuous sex? No," Letterman said.
Unlike many people who have reacted to David Letterman's jokes I don't believe they were rape jokes because those jokes relied on attitudes about the assumed sexual aggressiveness of certain girls. These jokes depend on the erasure of the possibility of rape of those girls. The difference may seem small but it is significant.
A commenter who goes by pissonrushsgrave wrote on a YouTube story about the jokes and the backlash:
you sound like an ignorant hick..Bristol is no virgin, unless she is the Virgin Mary...and the Palins set themselves up for humor when they claim to represent virtue and morality AND insinuate that those on the left are immoral. The joke was funny because it had truth to it. If Bristol ever met A-Rod she would be all over him.
This is why Letterman's joke is so dangerous even if he was talking about Bristol Palin being the one knocked up as he claims. In this view, A-Rod would be the hapless target of a promiscuous girl who might not take no for an answer.
The harm is in more than the target's hurt feelings. The harm is in how this stereotype impacts boys' and men's behavior toward girls and women, how it impacts the way sex crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and how it impacts the perceptions and behaviors of bystanders.
Bristol isn't a virgin, therefore Bristol has no sexual morals and will have sex with just about any man. This attitude about teenage girls who give birth is not just a liberal attitude as it reflects pervasive attitudes which are also held by many conservatives who support or demand abstinence-only sex education because of their belief about what teens would do if they were given comprehensive sex education.
The virginity pledge is predicated on this good girl, bad girl binary. I've lost count of the times an otherwise respectable man is arrested or convicted of statutory rape of a girl and some commenter to the story will make it clear that the victim, "was no innocent victim."
Talking about all non-virgin girls as if they are no different from dirty toothbrushes is even more offensive than what Letterman said and the damage it can do to girls who have been victims of repeated sexual violence has been ignored by the conservative groups who have rallied against David Letterman.
The difference is that comparing a non-virgin girl to a dirty toothbrush isn't done as part of a joke. It is done as serious education. And this education directly feeds the attitudes which Letterman tapped into when he made sexual jokes about Sarah Palin's daughter.
If we are against the message which underpinned David Letterman's joke because the message itself is toxic rather than simply because of which family that joke was directed at then we must be opposed to all permutations of this message.
When Bill O'Reilly made serious and dangerous comments about victims of violent criminals, including about Shawn Hornbeck who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted beginning when he was 11 years old and only ending over 4 years later, I saw no efforts by conservatives to go after O'Reilly's sponsors until he was fired.
When people protested the decision by the It Happened To Alexa Foundation to have O'Reilly give a keynote address those protesters were mislabeled by many conservatives as being against rape victims. The labels applied to O'Reilly's protesters included, "These radical left wing loons are right out of Nazi Germany."
If protesting those who hired Bill O'Reilly after his offensive comments about a child kidnapping victim and a murder victim is right out of Nazi Germany then so to are the demands that David Letterman be fired from CBS.
If we are serious about challenging dangerous messages which harm children then both David Letterman and Bill O'Reilly must be acknowledged as having crossed dangerous lines. Those who demand that Letterman be fired need to demand that O'Reilly be fired as well.
Dangerous is dangerous no matter whether that danger comes from a comedian or a pundit and no matter whether it comes from the left, middle or right.
H/T: Social-psyche via email
Update: For the conservatives who agree with Sarah Palin that Letterman owes all girls an apology for contributing to dangerous attitudes about girls, please speak up against your fellow conservatives whenever they do something like describe a 14-year-old alleged rape victim as a whore.
From The Coos Bay Thunder Pot by John Obermyer, who is a conservative blogger as evidenced by his blogroll, about a case where 2 15-year-old boys are accused of getting a girl drunk prior to an alleged gang rape:
Did the girl just happen to find herself drunk? Did the boys force the alcohol down her throat at gunpoint? Was the girl kidnapped?
Mothers need to teach their daughters to not booze and whore with anyone.
This is the type of conservative message which undermines the credibility of Sarah Palin's and other conservatives concern for all girls. This order to mothers in no way supports good values since it denies rape.
"Gov. Palin announced over the weekend that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is five months pregnant. And you thought John Edwards was in trouble before! Now he has really done it."