1 of 2
John Paul Filo, CBS
Julia Roberts appears with David Letterman.

I am a coward. David Letterman is a brave man.

Last week, anyone unfortunate to be anywhere near me could not get me to shut up about the David Letterman-Sarah Palin feud. And yet I didn't write anything about it, mostly out of fear.

Fearing that I would be inundated with e-mails from people who would interpret anything I wrote as politically partisan. Even though it's not.

Letterman, on the other hand, apologized on Monday night. Even though he's clearly not guilty of any of the ridiculous charges leveled against him.

I'm completely appalled at what happened. I'm disgusted by Palin's behavior. I'm even more disgusted by the behavior of some political pundits out there who have made this into something it clearly was not — for their own gain.

And I would be equally disgusted if the political figure involved in all of this were a Democrat, Libertarian or Socialist.

That's not going to stop those who want to criticize me for taking a political stand, but it's the bottom line.

To recap, Palin used her alleged outrage at jokes told on his "Late Show" as political fodder. To remain in the spotlight. To rally supporters.

One joke was actually about the disgraced former New York governor, not any of the Palins: "The toughest part of (Palin's) visit (to New York) was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter."

Another joke referenced an awkward moment at a Yankees game when, "during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

Letterman was under the impression that Palin was accompanied by her 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, the unwed mother. Actually, it was her 14-year-old daughter, Willow.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. And, as Letterman admitted on the air last week, it was a mistake.

"These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl," he said. "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."

And yet Palin and her husband, Todd, went out of their way to accuse Letterman of promoting "rape" of their 14-year-old daughter — a battle cry that has been picked up by various TV/radio hosts who make a living out of creating controversy out of far less than this.

On Monday, Letterman went even further. He accepted the blame for the way the joke was interpreted by those with a political agenda. And he didn't attempt to blame anyone else.

He said he understood that people would be upset if they thought the joke was about a 14-year-old girl. "I would be upset myself.

"I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke," Letterman said. "It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault that it was misunderstood … I'm sorry about it, and I'll try to do better in the future," he said.

It was a classy move, which the Alaska governor failed to echo. She issued a statement accepting the apology "on behalf of all young women, like my daughters, who hope men who `joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve."

That's perpetuating the lie that Letterman was joking about exploiting underage girls.

I'm not defending the joke. It's one of dozens of similar jokes made by every late-night talk-show host. Hey, Jay Leno made a career out of turning everything into a dirty joke.

Remember when he couldn't stop poking fun at the O.J. Simpson trial — complete with the Dancing (Judge) Itos? And that was about two horrific murders.

Watch Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel tonight, and you'll be able to find at least one joke in every one of those shows that you could launch a politically opportunistic/nonsensical crusade over.

It's also nonsense to maintain that jokes aren't made about Democrats as well as Republicans. You had to be living under a rock to miss all the Clinton jokes.

And Rush Limbaugh, who's been carrying water for Palin on this, once referred to then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton as the "White House dog" in his short-lived TV show.

It was unconscionable when Palin told Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" that Letterman's dumb joke "contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men."

It's like being falsely accused of racism. How do you defend yourself? Anything you say comes across like, "Um, some of my best friends are black."

A comment made by Palin's spokesperson was certainly as tasteless and inappropriate as any of Letterman's joke. Turning down an invitation to appear on the "Late Show," the spokesperson said, "It would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman."

The clear insinuation was that Letterman couldn't be trusted around a 14-year-old girl. And yet, in response to Lauer, Palin was both unapologetic and flippant about something she purports to take so seriously.

"Hey, take it however you want to take it," she said, adding, "It's not in bad taste."

Yes, it was.

Letterman did a dumb, unthinking thing for which he's apologized. Palin, on the other hand, has milked this controversy for her own benefit — exploiting her daughters more than a bad joke on a late-night talk show ever could.

It's been aggravating and horrifying to watch this play out. Even when I was too cowardly to write anything about it.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com