Then Letterman — apparently not getting CNN's message that it had made the mistake until he was well into his Tuesday broadcast — only heightened the confusion.
The whole thing started during a collection of video clips Letterman showed Monday under the label "George W. Bush Invigorates America's Youth."
One showed Mr. Bush at a March rally in Orlando, Fla., standing at a lectern with several listeners behind him — among them, a boy in his early teens who could barely stay awake. While Bush spoke, the young man yawned, twisted his head, checked his watch and generally seemed dead on his feet.
Tuesday morning, CNN attempted to lighten its news mood by running the segment, credited to CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman," on its "CNN Live Today."
But then CNN host Daryn Kagan added: "We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren't really reacting."
Later, during CNN's "Live From ...," anchor Kyra Phillips reran the tape but cautioned viewers: "We're told that the kid was there at that event, but not necessarily standing behind the president."
The truth was: The White House never complained, and the footage was real.
So is the lad: 13-year-old Tyler Crotty, son of Orange County Chairman and Bush supporter Rich Crotty. As the elder Crotty explained Thursday, Tyler was so excited about the prospect of seeing the president he couldn't sleep the night before.
While awaiting Bush's appearance, a lucky Tyler got a prime seat when a guest invited to sit on the dais didn't show. But the lengthy event took its toll on the tired youngster — and then on Letterman, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Ball State University.
"This has gotten to be so silly and so complicated, and I don't want to go through it again because every day there's a new development, and we think now it's over," Letterman said on Thursday's show. "We hope to God it's over."
Not quite. Letterman announced that Tyler will be his guest Friday.
On his Tuesday telecast, Letterman aired Kagan's and Phillips' skeptical remarks and ranted: "An out-and-out, 100 percent absolute lie. The kid absolutely was there and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape. ...
"So when you cast your vote in November," he urged, "just remember that the White House was trying to make ME look like a DOPE."
By then, CNN had owned up to its mistake, and placed a call to Letterman's New York headquarters before the 5:30 p.m. taping began. But the tape was already rolling before Letterman got the word.
"According to this," he said during the show, referring to an index card in his grasp, "CNN has just phoned and ... the anchorwoman misspoke. They never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake."
So then he wailed: "Now I've called the White House liars, and you know what that means — they're going to start looking into my taxes!"
Though CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson noted that "we frequently air late-night comedy show clips," on Thursday she confirmed the "misunderstanding among our staff" surrounding the yawning-boy video.
Meanwhile, Kagan made an on-air show of contrition.
"Dave, we apologize for the error," she said, offering to come on his show for a Stupid Human Trick.