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The David Letterman-John McCain smackdown

The late night hosts – even Jon Stewart – tend to be cordial and sympathetic to politicians when they’re present as guests while reserving the right to mock them when they’re not around. Which means, if you’re a candidate, you cancel your appearance on a late night show at your peril. That’s what happened yesterday when John McCain dropped out of his scheduled appearance on the Late Show at the last minute, citing a need to go to Washington immediately to fix the economic crisis. Letterman, who, let’s not forget, has provided such a friendly forum to McCain in previous appearances that the senator announced his presidential candidacy on the Late Show (PopWatch was there, live!), made a point last night of praising McCain’s past heroism while at the same time calling out his excuse for standing Dave up as fishy. Turns out Dave’s suspicions were correct; instead of returning to D.C., McCain was at that very moment just a few blocks away being primped and made up for an interview by fellow CBS-er Katie Couric, as Letterman demonstrated by cutting to the live feed at the CBS Evening News studio.

Now, you can argue that Dave was churlish for spending some nine minutes of the show mocking McCain’s flimsy excuse, or for booking outspoken McCain critic Keith Olbermann as a substitute guest. Still, this was can’t-look-away television. Check out the highlights below, and tell us whether you thought Dave went too far or not far enough.

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Originally posted September 25 2008 — 8:14 PM EDT

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