That was some firestorm David Letterman found himself confronting, wasn't it? Do you think the comedian had any idea his jokes mocking Gov. Sarah Palin and her family would lead to such condemnation? I don't.
What Letterman and his writers failed to see is the growing anger in America over personal attacks leveled against public people. The issue is primarily about partisan insults. Many now consider Letterman a liberal guy, and so his remarks about Palin were viewed as more political than satirical. If Jay Leno (who is more nonpartisan than Letterman) had told the jokes, he would have been criticized, but not to the same extent.
According to a new Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative, 35 percent say they are moderate and just 21 percent answer to the liberal description. Liberals are outnumbered by almost four to one. Thus, when a conservative icon such as Palin is demeaned by a high-profile entertainer who leans left, it becomes a big political story. Cable news and the blogs blow it up.
In the media world in which Letterman lives, many people are outspokenly liberal. New York City and Hollywood are unabashedly so. But the folks are not. And they do not want nasty stuff directed at a working mother like Palin, who holds traditional values. To hear the liberal pundits try to defend Letterman was something out of 'The Twilight Zone.' They put forth that because 18-year-old Bristol Palin appeared with her mother at political rallies, she was fair game. Pure idiocy.
The folks also zeroed in on the hypocrisy of the Letterman-Palin situation. If somebody had mocked President Obama's family that way, they would be destroyed. There's a difference between a president and a governor, but the analysis is valid.
What liberal entertainers do not understand is that Obama was elected because the economy collapsed under a Republican president. While some liberal zealots believe Obama's ascension certified a national ideological move to the left, they are exceedingly wrong. The folks are closely watching Obama. And if the economy does not improve significantly, he'll have a battle in 2012.
I believe Letterman when he says he's sorry about the Palin dust-up. I don't think he meant to hurt the Palin daughters; he's not that kind of guy. But he definitely has an edge when it comes to people who do not fit into his ideological comfort zone. I've been on the Letterman program five times. Last time around, he called me a goon and mocked Rush Limbaugh's weight. I asked him why he was doing that, but he did not have an answer.
And so it was the mean-spirited perception that dunked Letterman. Robust debate over issues has made the U.S.A. the great country it is. But increasingly, personal attacks are being used to marginalize opposing points of view. And when those attacks involve kids, even on the periphery, Americans will not stand for it.
Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News.