According to The Live Feed, Letterman says the following on tonight's show:
I was watching the Jim Lehrer ‘Newshour’ – this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy, now I’m beginning to understand what the problem is here. It’s the perception rather than the intent.’ It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not a very good joke. And I’m certainly – ” (audience applause) “– thank you. Well, my responsibility – I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault. That it was misunderstood.” (audience applauds) “Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I’m sorry about it and I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much.” (audience applause)It's good that Letterman is apologizing. He definitely crossed the line.
But his apology appears to waffle.
On the one hand, when Letterman says, "my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception," he seems to imply that the problem rests with us, not him. We just don't get it.
On the other hand, he admits fault for putting out into the public square a joke difficult to appreciate with his remark, "It’s not your (the viewer's) fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault."
A true apology focuses on the actions we did--on our guilt. Despite what Letterman says, one's intent does matter. In fact, it's the heart of the matter.