In a comment thread to a post trying to put dirt about me on Google — which doesn’t particularly worry because the source is now identified as a violence-threatening crank — Jeff Goldstein continues to defend David Letterman’s sex joke about Sarah Palin’s child. He doesn’t have the courage of his convictions to put his specific points in a full post, but rather makes his specific arguments in a mere comment. (His most recent post fails to set forth the same specific losing arguments.)
I respond to each point below, but I am astounded by the conclusion:
[F]rom a strategic standpoint, standing by and watching a bunch of screeching conservatives berate a comedian was troubling, because it reinforced what many Americans already believe about conservatives: that they are scolds who wish to legislate their own morality.
Got that? The real victim was not Sarah Palin’s children, but David Letterman — “berated” by “a bunch of screeching conservatives” upset at a prominent TV personality making a sex joke about Sarah Palin’s child.
One of Goldstein’s several failures of understanding is echoed several times in this passage: a fundamental inability to distinguish between a constitutional right to say stupid things (on one hand), and a non-existent “right” to say whatever the hell you want without fear of criticism.
With rights come responsibilities. If we say something that deserved to be criticized, we may get criticized. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that says you get to be free from criticism for saying stupid things.
Yet it is a common “defense” of stupid statements to say “well, I should have the right to say it.” Yes, and nobody is saying you don’t. We’re saying we have the right to call you stupid for saying it.
I’ll refer to this concept again and again, because this fallacious mode of argumentation absolutely permeates Goldstein’s defense.
With that in mind, let’s take his points one at a time.
1) I said: “now that we’re speaking to each other again — however roughly — I’d like to put it to him directly: how in the world did he defend David Letterman for joking about the statutory rape of 14-year-old Willow Palin?” Goldstein responds:
I didn’t. Letterman didn’t mention Willow. He mentioned Bristol.
No, he did not say Bristol. He said:
One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.
The daughter at the game was Willow, age 14.
Goldstein assumes that Letterman meant Bristol — as Letterman later claimed he had meant to refer to Bristol. But as his commenter Lying Pablo said at the time, Letterman might have been lying:
I’m gonna go with the latter [the concept that Letterman was lying when he said he was referring to Bristol]. [T]he former might have flown until after Monday’s A-Rod/slutty stewardess cracks and the ensuing OUTRAGE, he doubled down on Tues[da]y with the Spitzer joke. He (by which I mean the writers) couldn’t have not known on Tuesday that the kid in tow was Willow, not Bristol.
In any event, he did not say “Bristol” as claimed by Goldstein.
2) Next, I said: “What Goldstein didn’t seem to understand in that post is that nobody was arguing that comedians should be deprived of the right to make decisions — but that they should exercise those decisions responsibly. Specifically: teenaged children are off-limits when it comes to sexual jokes — even (especially?) teenaged daughters of political figures.” To which Goldstein responded:
Bristol had a kid out of wedlock. The baby daddy had already been on the talk show circuit. Bristol was a public figure.
Your idea of what is “responsible” differs from Letterman’s. And probably George Carlin’s. And Lenny Bruce’s. And Richard Pryor’s.
Don’t care. In this context, my idea of what is “responsible” is clear: comedians should not make sex jokes about people’s children. It wasn’t funny when Deb Frisch did it to Goldstein’s child, and it wasn’t funny when Letterman did it to Sarah Palin’s child.
And Goldstein never once addresses my point that what really supposedly made Bristol a “public figure” was 1) the fact that she didn’t get an abortion, and 2) the fact that a Big Lie pushed by the left suggested that her baby was really Sarah Palin’s. I think that accepting her as a “public figure” and thus fair game for jokes by late night comedians plays right into the hands of a false narrative being pushed by the left, as well as a desire to punish a girl for serving as a role model for young women who don’t want to sacrifice their babies on the altar of expedience.
3) I argued: “First, the girl at the game was Willow Palin, aged 14, and not Bristol. All the linguistic arguments in the world can’t paper over that simple fact.” To which Goldstein responded:
So? Letterman was making a joke, not doing a Discovery Channel special on the travels of the Palin family. I said at the time and I’ll repeat it again: Letterman didn’t have the first idea who Willow Palin was. The joke was about Bristol. He said Bristol. The behavior he was lampooning tracks with the public narrative of Bristol.
Again, he did not say Bristol. Goldstein has no idea whether Letterman knows who Willow is or not. I did, at the time Letterman made the joke. Why are we to assume Letterman didn’t?
Mocking Bristol could have tracked a broader (yet false) “public narrative” of mocking all of Sarah Palin’s children as trailer trash. Why are we to assume that the aging lecher Letterman would be above such a disgusting tactic?
As for language theory, I argue that it matters whether the actual girl at the game was Willow. If (as Pablo argued) Letterman knew the girl at the game was Willow, that should have caused him to modify his speech to specify which daughter he was joking about. Changing his speech in that way would be desirable, to avoid a hurtful effect on the listener Willow — even if he didn’t “intend” it. Knowing the likely reaction of a totally innocent listener, Letterman should not have phrased his joke in a way that it would suggest the real butt of the joke was a 14-year-old child.
This goes to the heart of the linguistic debate I have had with him: the fact that, under some circumstances, a speaker’s knowledge of the likely effect on a listener (here a 14-year-old girl) can justifiably cause a speaker to phrase comments in a different way. Otherwise, you’re defending making a sex joke about a child, knowing that a 14-year-old might take it as a totally uncalled-for joke about her.
4) I said: “Second, the idea that anyone could consider this joke funny (and while Goldstein said he didn’t find the joke funny, he nonetheless defended Letterman for telling it) ignores the fact that the equation of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy with “snowbilly trashiness” is just another Big Lie of the Left.” To which Goldstein responds:
Of course it is. That’s why the joke was made for this audience. It was lazy. So? Letterman has the right to tell bad, lazy jokes to an audience that is receptive to such jokes.
There’s that fallacy again: the confusion of First Amendment rights with the idea that one has the right to remain free from criticism for idiotic speech. Nobody is talking about yanking Letterman’s constitutional rights here. So the fact that he has such rights is irrelevant.
At the time, Goldstein wrote his post explicitly to “justify” Letterman’s joke. There is no justification for it. He has the right to say it, and we have the right to criticize him for it.
I have already addressed Goldstein’s passive acceptance of the Big Lie of the Left, as well as the way he ignores Bristol’s refusal to abort her child — and how that refusal is exploited by the left to make her seem trashy, rather than what she is: principled.
5) Finally, I said: “The argument, linguistically speaking, is simple. Sure, the intent of the speaker is what it is. We should strive to determine it. But when your philosophy of language impels you to utterly ignore the way your speech will be received — even when that speech has the effect of dragging a 14-year-old girl into the spotlight as the casual object of derision for a disgusting old joke-teller (who, as it happens, has some little morality issues of his own, as we later learned) — it turns out that the effect on the audience is not something to be ignored after all.” To which Goldstein responds:
a) I have never said the effect on an audience should necessarily be ignored. That’s rhetorical strategy. Covered this in the Hot Air piece. Likewise, nothing in intentionalism “impels you to utterly ignore the way your speech will be received”. Nothing.
But you have suggested it again and again, with sanctimonious lectures on how conservatives CANNOT modify their message to guard against a poor reception by the audience — or else THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON!
b) Bristol Palin, again, is not a 14-year old girl
Willow Palin, again, is.
c) Nothing about intentionalism leads me to “justify a very public verbal assault on a 14-year-old girl”. I justified Letterman’s right as a late-night comic in the US to do a joke in a monologue.
Yet again: a right to do a joke does not equal a right to do jokes without criticism.
This is the famous argumentation that is supposed to leave lesser mortals quivering in their boots? Conflating First Amendment rights with the non-existent right to be free from criticism? Insisting on the importance of SPEAKING YOUR MIND AND IGNORING THE LISTENER’S LIKELY REACTION — even if an innocent 14-year-old girl is made the butt of a sexual joke told by an aging national comedian?
I am not impressed by this logic — nor should any rational person be.