David Letterman deftly played it both ways on Wednesday's "Late Show" as he apologized for wisecracks aimed earlier in the week at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and one of her teenage daughters — even as he milked the situation for more laughs.
"Of course, we make mistakes left and right," the CBS host said as he began a lengthy discourse that blended flashes of contrition with moments of hilarity as he took more pokes at Palin and her family.
Letterman had made several jokes on Monday's monologue about the Palin family's visit to New York.
His Top Ten list featured "Highlights of Sarah Palin's Trip," and included: "Bought makeup at Bloomingdale's to update her 'slutty flight attendant' look."
But the diciest joke centered on the family attending a Yankees baseball game.
Letterman said "an awkward moment" occurred for Palin when, "during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by (Yankee third baseman) Alex Rodriguez."
Without naming her, the joke seemed to refer to Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol, an unwed mother.
But it was 14-year-old daughter Willow, not Bristol, who had been at the game.
Todd Palin issued a statement that said "any 'jokes' about raping my 14-year-old are despicable."
And Sarah Palin charged Letterman with "sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity."
"I am not a celebrity," said a deadpan Letterman, interrupting himself as he read the statements aloud on Wednesday's show. "I'm 62 years old, but I'm not a celebrity."
He denied the joke was meant to be about Willow Palin.
"I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl," he said, dropping his signature sarcasm. "I don't think it's funny. I would never think it was funny."
"I'm not necessarily proud of these jokes," he said in a more ironically self-deprecating moment. "We do stuff all the time and our objective here is to get a laugh, and thank God we don't have to go to the Hague and the World Court to defend them. It's a joke and that's all it's supposed to be."
Before he was done, he tried to boil down the situation into two key points, which he stated with playful precision:
"Am I guilty of poor taste? Yes.
"Did I suggest that it was OK for her 14-year-old daughter to be having promiscuous sex? No."
He also invited Palin to be a guest on his show, saying, "I think we could put these differences behind us." But the offer, extended to both Palin and her husband ("or leave Todd at home," Letterman suggested), was turned down on Thursday.
"The Palins have no intention of providing a ratings boost for David Letterman by appearing on his show," said Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton. "Plus, it would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman."
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