Several Advertisers Withdraw CBS Support in Wake of Letterman-Palin “Joke”

By Peter J. Smith

NEW YORK, June 17, 2009 ( – Alaska governor Sarah Palin may have accepted late-night comedian David Letterman’s belated apology for making a rape joke about her 14 year-old daughter, but a grassroots campaign has continued to put pressure on CBS to fire the comedian. The campaign as of yesterday had generated 52,000 petitions requesting CBS fire Letterman, and it appears that two major advertisers, and a possibly a third, have chosen to withdraw support from CBS over the controversy.

John Zeigler, Los Angeles radio talk show host and producer of the documentary film, Media Malpractice, had announced Thursday afternoon to the members of the campaign that the restaurant chain “Olive Garden” appeared to have withdrawn its advertisements from Letterman’s “Late Show” for the rest of the year.

POLITICO first reported on Thursday that it had obtained, secondhand, an e-mail that originated from Sherri Bruen, Olive Garden’s guest relations manager, citing Letterman’s “inappropriate comments” as the reason for the company’s “cancelling all its scheduled ads” with the “Late Show.”

“We apologize that Mr. Letterman’s mistake, which was not consistent with our standards and values, left you with a bad impression of Olive Garden,” stated the e-mail.

However Olive Garden later contradicted Politico’s report, clarifying to the New York Times that scheduled commercials for the Letterman show had just expired “earlier this month,” although the company spokesman would not comment as to whether they would be renewed for the rest of the year.

Gwendolyn Lindsay-Jackson, a freelance television legal analyst and spokeswoman for, told (LSN) in an e-mail that Embassy Suites public relations manager, Dawn Ray, has informed them that the hotel chain is pulling all its advertising from affiliated websites.

“I do indeed believe that CBS has no alternative but to respond to the pressure where it really hurts economically by targeting CBS Sponsors,” she said. “We are continuing our efforts, to demand the firing of David Letterman, and the results have been that a lucrative sponsor Embassy Suites has divested themselves as CBS sponsors.”  

Now it appears that Hellman’s/Best Foods is the latest company to respond, saying it will pull online advertisements from the Letterman show.

Zeigler told LSN by telephone that the movement to fire David Letterman was a matter of justice and accountability. He indicated that Letterman should escape the consequences no more than did radio shock-jock Don Imus, who made a racial slur about the Rutgers women’s basketball team and was fired.

“I mean, are we now setting a precedent that it is really okay for a comedian on an over-the-air, high profile show like that, in a premeditated fashion, to make a rape joke about a politician because the media does not like that politician?” Zeigler said.

“To insecure people, [Palin] is a very threatening figure. This is a woman with five children,” said Zeigler. “She is very successful in her professional life, who is ardently pro-life, who kills her own food, so obviously in love with her husband and vice versa, and looks great doing all this. It is a very threatening persona to a lot of people, especially a lot of liberals.”

Less than two weeks ago, Palin was traveling through New York with some members of her family, attending non-political functions. However Palin’s decision to take her 14 year-old daughter Willow to a Yankees game in New York City, became the subject of Letterman’s June 8 scripted comedy-routine, in which he stated that the Alaskan governor looked like a “slutty flight attendant,” and proceeded to laugh that Palin was distracted in the 7th evening with her daughter being “knocked up” by third-baseman Alex Rodriguez.

The Palins immediately responded with outrage, calling Letterman’s humor "sexually perverted."

Letterman had first refused to make a full-apology, saying the comment was not meant to be about Willow, but instead about Bristol, Palin’s 18-year-old daughter. However, Bristol had been in Alaska at the time, and media reports covering the Palins’ movements had only mentioned Willow as the daughter in attendance.

Palin told Today Show host Matt Lauer about the affair, “No wonder young girls have such low self esteem when we think it's funny for a so-called comedian to make a remark like he did and think it's acceptable."

The family rebuffed calls from Letterman to appear on his show. Letterman finally made a full apology, seven days after the incident.

The FireDavidLetterman coalition has coordinated rallies via Facebook. The first had been held last Tuesday in New York outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman is filmed. Another rally is scheduled to occur on Saturday in Texas.

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