By Ken Tucker
June 16, 2009 at 01:26 PM EDT

In an extraordinary gesture of conciliation, David Letterman spent a good chunk of the first half of Monday night’s Late Show apologizing for the jokes that so offended Gov. Sarah Palin, and making jokes at his own expense about the animosity he has attracted over the past week.

Saying once again that his joke about a Palin daughter at Yankee Stadium had been tasteless, Letterman said what many of us had thought: that “I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl [Willow] was at the ball game.” “I understand why people are upset,” he said, because by now, it’s “the perception rather than the intent.” In other words, Letterman never intended to be cruel, but that’s how it was perceived. He apologized to “the Governor and her family.” 

(Incidentally, Letterman said he came to this realization after listening to a remark about the controversy made by Mark Shields on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, possibly the biggest media-mention Shields or Lehrer has received in this century.)

Fascinatingly, what preceded this was an opening monologue that was virtually all about the Palin brouhaha. His opening words were a sarcastic, “I’m David Letterman, good-will ambassador… I got a call from Mom today. She told me she was siding with the governor.” Talking about how Bernie Madoff’s wife said recently she felt “shunned by friends and neighbors,” he added, “Hey, tell me about it.”

As I wrote yesterday, I wish Letterman did not feel the need to apologize or explain himself yet again. Letterman’s bedrock decency has prevailed over what he must know is Palin’s bedrock opportunism in prolonging the controversy. But if this is the way he’s choosing to try and end this messiness, I hope it works.

Now let’s see what happens next. Will Palin accept Letterman’s apology? Also, on Monday, it was reported that a protest has been planned for Tuesday afternoon outside New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman tapes his show. It’s being co-sponsored by radio host John Ziegler, a creepy specimen who once remarked that the phrase “a rational woman” is “an oxymoron.” This is the man to whom Palin gave an interview when first expressing her concerns about the Letterman jokes. You wouldn’t think she’d want a guy like that in her corner.

What do you think? Should this controversy end now?

For more on the Letterman apology:

Letterman apologizes for Palin comment

An open letter to David Letterman re Sarah Palin