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UPDATE 9:25 AM ET: Sarah Palin issued a statement Tuesday accepting
David Letterman apologized to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on Monday night's show, saying he takes "full responsibility" for a "beyond flawed" joke in which he had quipped that Palin's daughter had been "knocked up" by Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez.
Just after his monologue, Letterman sat behind his desk and apologized to Palin's two daughters, Bristol and Willow, Palin and her family and "everybody else who was outraged by the joke."
Letterman continued, "I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception."
Despite the apology, Palin supporters tell the Los Angeles Times that they still plan to hold a protest rally today outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City, where Letterman tapes his show.
Similar to his assertion last week that he would never joke about the rape or sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl (Willow's age), Letterman insisted that he confused Willow with her 18-year-old sister Bristol, who had a child out of wedlock last year.
"I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Guiliani," he said. "I should have made the joke about Rudy."
Palin did several on-air interviews last week, repudiating Letterman's explanation of the jokes.
Newsday reports that Letterman made the decision to apologize on his own, with no pressure from his bosses at CBS.
The irony is that fellow late-night comics Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien have all made more jokes about Bristol's pregnancy without incurring the wrath of Palin and others.
According to the Washington Post, through mid-March Leno had made 15 jokes and O'Brien made 20 jokes at Bristol's expense, compared to 8 for Letterman.
The Post adds that Palin even appeared on "Saturday Night Live" after the show performed a skit joking about incest in her family, with comic Bobby Moynihan quipping, "Uhhh -- what about the husband? You KNOW he's doing those daughters! I mean, come on! It's Alaska!"
Watch the video:
Below is a transcript of Letterman's comments obtained by TV Week:
"All right, here - I've been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week - it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don't know about it. But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There's no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can't be defended. The next day, people are outraged. They're angry at me because they said, 'How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?' And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the Governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani...And I really should have made the joke about Rudy..." (audience applauds) "But I didn't, and now people are getting angry and they're saying, 'Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who's completely innocent, minding her own business,' and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she's now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I'm wondering, 'Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?' I've never made jokes like this as long as we've been on the air, 30 long years, and you can't really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself.
"And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer 'Newshour' - this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, now I'm beginning to understand what the problem is here. It's the perception rather than the intent.' It doesn't make any difference what my intent was, it's the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it's not a very good joke. And I'm certainly - " (audience applause) "- thank you. Well, my responsibility - I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault. That it was misunderstood." (audience applauds) "Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the Governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much." (audience applause)