AP: Could Palin Flap Help Letterman's Ratings?

June 13th, 2009 3:20 PM

Has America become such a sex-crazed, debauched nation that telling disgusting rape jokes about a political figure's daughter could make you more popular?

Such was posed Saturday by the Associated Press's David Bauder in a piece titled "Could Palin flap be Letterman's Hugh Grant?"

Strap yourselves in tightly before proceeding, and please do so with caution:

Sarah Palin would no doubt be horrified by the idea, but there's a chance she could become the same boon to David Letterman's career that Hugh Grant was to Jay Leno's.

Grant's 1995 appearance on NBC's "Tonight" show after a prostitution arrest, where Leno famously asked "what were you thinking?," was seen in retrospect as a turning point in the late-night race. It drew a huge audience and propelled Leno to the top of the ratings, a spot he would not relinquish.

Letterman did not court last week's battle with Palin, who called him "perverted" for making a joke about her daughter getting "knocked up" by New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, and he said in retrospect the remark was in poor taste.

Palin rebuffed his invitations to appear on the show, but that might not matter. The story had the effect of turning the attention to Letterman at a critical time, during the second week of his new competition with Leno's replacement, Conan O'Brien.

"It will be interesting to see if that can be maintained or whether it is one of those temporary things," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

The final numbers won't be out until later in the week, but there's a strong chance that Letterman could average more viewers than the "Tonight" show in the second week of O'Brien's new 11:35 p.m. job.

Wouldn't that be quite an exclamation point on this sordid affair: a man tells a disgusting joke about a political official's daughter and ends up benefiting from it?

Excuse me, but I suddenly feel the need to wash my hands.