Kate Ward
June 16, 2009 AT 12:00 PM EDT

A larger-than-usual crowd gathered across the street from New York’s Ed Sullivan Theatre today — but they weren’t tourists looking for tickets to David Letterman’s Late Show. Rather, dozens of protesters holding signs reading “Dirty Ole Man” or “We are ALL the Palins,” showed up to urge CBS to penalize, suspend, or just outright fire Letterman for his self-admitted “flawed” sexually charged joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter. “I’m outraged,” said protester Josephine Sarno, who held a sign reading “Over the line, Dave.” “It was a low blow. I’m insulted for women. I’m insulted for children. I’m insulted for families. I’m insulted.”

Other protesters took a more blunt approach, screaming for surrounding gawkers to take their children home to “keep them safe from David Letterman’s mouth!” And most at the scene were unwilling to accept the talk show host’s two apologies to the Alaska governor. (Earlier today, before the protest began, Palin accepted Letterman’s apology.) “I think he was sincerely sorry that his joke had got him into trouble,” said Susan, a protester who held a sign that read “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.” “I think apologies are wonderful and I hope he feels in his heart sorry for what he did. But it’s not okay enough for me. It seems like the only group that’s okay to bash all you want is pro-life women. You can say anything ugly you want. You can drag us through the mud, and nobody cares.” Although many were demanding Letterman’s termination, others were just hoping that CBS would make an example of the talk show host, much like MSNBC did when the network suspended David Shuster last year for suggesting that the Clintons had “pimped out” their daughter, Chelsea. “Is it okay because Bristol Palin had a baby, it’s okay now to drag her through the mud?” said Susan. “Barack Obama’s mom was [a teen] when she got pregnant with him. Is it okay to make jokes about her and his conception? It’s not right.”

Just feet away from the protesters, however, a group of Letterman supporters gathered with their own smattering of signs, like “You lost, now go away” and “Sarah needs a life.” And although one supporter seemed intent on hamming it up for cameras — he spent most of the protest thrashing on the floor while screaming — others had a more tactile approach. Two supporters, Tracy Barber and David Heller, expressed disappointment that Palin would accuse Letterman of making a joke about statutory rape when her own legislation forced rape victims to pay for their rape kits, as many news outlets reported during last year’s election. “Just the idea that Palin is pro-woman [is ridiculous], you know?” Barber said. “We love David Letterman. He’s a New York institution. And we believe that free speech is always more important than whether or not it’s in taste.”

But not everyone was so diplomatic. Said an attendee who preferred to remain anonymous: “She should be thankful that Dave or anybody said anything about her to keep her name in the papers…. I think she should keep her mouth shut, go back to Alaska, and maybe take a few of the Republicans that are here back with her.”


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