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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Comments (659 total) Add your comment
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  • Zet

    Maybe if the McCain camp had told the truth, he wouldn’t have been roasted over the coals. Yeah, it would have been uncomfortable but everyone can understand the GOP nominee not wanting to be seen yucking it up with Dave while Wall Street’s burning. Is there anything McCain and his “people” won’t lie about? (I can hear your screams of outrage now.)

  • Jason

    Unfortunately it’s left to the comics to do the journalists’ job nowadays, since journalists increasingly soft-ball candidates and don’t call them out on their lies.
    This stunt of McCain’s is just that, a stunt, nothing more. Letterman was right to call him out on it.
    I just wish journalists would too. McCain admits to not understanding the economy, only a week ago insisted it was in fine shape, and has been told by those in charge of the committee that his participation would be of no help.
    This was just a photo op that has backfired. He is not the John McCain he used to be. He deserves to be called out for it.

  • Huffybike

    Not too far; just right.

  • Melanie

    I like Letterman, but frankly, I think he behaved like a child. McCain is running for president during an economic crises. Am I really supposed to be disappointed that he chose to do a serious interview with a serious journalist rather than appearing on Letterman’s show on this particular night? I don’t think so.

  • Some dude

    Wasn’t he on tv this morning too?

  • Gail

    Doh! Caught in a fib! He shouldn’t have used the current financial crisis to weasel out of an important appearance. Dumb head.

  • Chris

    Melanie, your argument would have plenty of merit if McCain would have told Letterman that. The issue here is more that McCain lied and said he was going back to Washington to fix the economical crater, and not that he was driving up a few blocks to hang out with Kouric and answer slightly more serious questions. On that note, Letterman gives his candidate guests three segments and the majority of these interviews are pretty serious. So sue him for infusing a joke or two into the whole thing. Watch Bill Clinton’s from earlier this week or Obama’s from a few weeks ago to see what I mean.

  • Emoney

    See, though, Melanie, I think Zet’s point is right — if McCain had been honest about his intentions it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But instead of saying, “listen, national crisis and all, I think I shouldn’t be on a funny show, I think I should give a serious interview,” he said “I have to rush back to Washington to work on this” and then proceeded to go give the Couric interview. And Couric isn’t exactly what most people think of as a serious journalist, although God bless her for trying.

  • strickens_girl

    Just right, Dave. Great job.

  • KG


  • Jason

    The issue is ALSO that McCain would be of no help with this crisis, according to those spearheading the committee in Washington, and by McCain’s own admission of ignorance to such matters.
    He canceled the interview and is trying to weasel out of the debates solely because he is losing and Obama is a stronger debater.
    Why is he trying to “postpone” Palin’s debate? Why does his opinion of our economy change day to day, depending on who he’s talking to?
    Even if he were being honest about this (and he’s obviously not) why should anyone consider voting for a candidate who cannot multitask? If he were president and a crisis erupted, would he put his administration “on hold”? This is absurd.

  • Stef


  • Robert

    Angry Dave>Regular Dave, by a long shot.

  • Raven_Moon

    That was great. Dave was hilarious. Shame on McCain for lying.

  • T-Rex

    Because determining who will lead our country out of this financial mess isn’t important. As an aside, Dave can do serious. Anyone who witnessed the Jerry Seinfeld/Kramer interview understands that. Dave is always deferential to his guests. And quite frankly the difference in interviewing skills between Dave and Katie is Grand Canyonesque. I would rather have a real interview with a funny edge from Dave than a fluff interview from Katie. McCain is going into hiding on this. I’m sure he’ll re-emerge if the economy starts to recover.

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