I have long had a great deal of respect for David Letterman. Now I've just seen a clip from his Thursday show that reinforces that sentiment. Letterman had "Dr." Phil on as a guest, and the two of them discussed Donald Trump behavior on the not-yet-an-official-campaign trail. Letterman criticized Trump with what I think is perfectly appropriate language, calling his questions about President Obama's academic performance and birthplace suggestive of racism. And he provided his commentary with Letterman's characteristic modesty and seeming impartiality. When he does step into the realm of personal commentary, I always find that he gives the impression that it is based not on ideological commitments but rather a basic commitment to use his public prominence to good effect when he sees something as plainly right or wrong.
But what I find particularly laudable in this case is not the uninhibited criticism itself, but what comes at the end of this clip.
It's a rather simple comment: "I'm not sure if we want him back on the show under those circumstances." Yet, this is precisely the move that so many other figures in the media are very pointedly not making. It's a very simple ethic at play for Letterman and seemingly for nobody else. When people are engaged in outlandish and reprehensible behavior, you shouldn't provide them with a further outlet for that behavior. But the impulse in the broader media seems to be verbalize, uphold, and legitimize the opinions of the least rational, reputable, or scrupulous amongst us. I'd recommend an early post at this blog for more on why that's a problem:
Legitimation as Bias
When the entire media is so terrible, it's very nice to see a couple of figures therein who show a bit of integrity and common sense. In this climate, such modest steps as saying race-baiters aren't welcome can seem downright heroic. My kudos to David Letterman for continuing to rise above his peers.