For “Me and Mrs. Palin,” Johnston tells Vanity Fair his story about life with the Palin family—with whom he lived for two months after the election—over the course of his two-and-a-half-year relationship with Bristol. He turns a number of commonly held beliefs about the former governor—the purportedly loving mother, devoted wife, and prolific hunter—upside down.
“The Palin house was much different from what many people expect of a normal family, even before she was nominated for vice president. There wasn’t much parenting in that house. Sarah doesn’t cook, Todd doesn’t cook—the kids would do it all themselves: cook, clean, do the laundry, and get ready for school. Most of the time Bristol would help her youngest sister with her homework, and I’d barbecue chicken or steak on the grill.”
Even before Palin became John McCain’s running mate, she seemed worried about what a grandchild would do to her political career. According to Johnston, she had a plan for how to handle her daughter’s unexpected pregnancy.
“Sarah told me she had a great idea: we would keep it a secret—nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant. She told me that once Bristol had the baby she and Todd would adopt him. That way, she said, Bristol and I didn’t have to worry about anything. Sarah kept mentioning this plan. She was nagging—she wouldn’t give up. She would say, “So, are you gonna let me adopt him?” We both kept telling her we were definitely not going to let her adopt the baby. I think Sarah wanted to make Bristol look good, and she didn’t want people to know that her 17-year-old daughter was going to have a kid.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:
Levi Johnston has now had his (dramatic, hanging off a building’s ledge) Vanity Fair cover shoot (video available online) and delivers a gift the world wide web is already running with. From comments on the Vanity Fair site (soon on an Atlantic Monthly blog near you?):
So, according to Levi, Governor Palin was very, very interested in avoiding embarrassment for her daughter – and a political problem – by passing off someone else’s child as her own and adopting him. This kid’s name was Tripp. But this exercise is called “proof of principle.” If anyone believed that Palin wasn’t nutty enough to try to pass off her own daughter’s baby as her own, they need to reassess.
First, Johnston didn’t say that Sarah would pass the baby off as her own, only that she would adopt it. Whose baby is Trig supposed to be? Who else in the world would Palin have wanted to protect by taking on a new baby? The motive would have to be entirely different, such as thinking she’d look good having a Down Syndrome baby. So the principle is a different one.
Second, is it nutty for a grandmother to take over the role of raising a child born to a too-young mother? Let Andrew Sullivan step up and answer a clear yes to that if that’s what he thinks. Do you realize how many women he is tainting with an accusation of insanity? Many, many women — including Barack Obama’s grandmother — have done that over the ages. No one with any sensitivity to the condition of women in society should say that it’s crazy for a grandmother to step in. It is a good and gracious thing that many good women have done, and emphatically not crazy.
4. If you want to talk crazy, how crazy is it to want so badly to paint Sarah Palin as crazy? She is your political opponent, Andrew, and you don’t think she’s good enough for high office. It’s not so dramatic. It’s utterly banal. Ironically, Palin draws energy from your overheated hatred. Have you heard she’s about to make $100 million?
The scumbag has an agent. The scumbag has a lawyer. The scumbag does a Vanity Fair photo shoot and appears on network news programs. People say they’ve seen him wheeling around in a brand new $30,000 truck. And other people say the scumbag hasn’t bought a single diaper for his own baby son.
M.J. Rosenberg at TPM:
Palin won’t survive this because — no matter how you cut it — this teenager is infinitely more credible than Palin. He has no reason to lie. He can sell a book even if he told how wonderful the Palins are.
My favorite part. I was one of those (like Andrew Sullivan) who thought that baby Trig was not Bristol’s but Sarah’s. My friends said I was a conspiracy nut. And, it turns out, I was wrong. Trig is Sarah’s but Sarah tried to get the kids to agree to pretend that Bristol’s kid, Tripp (the one she had with Levi) was Sarah’s too, to avoid bad press on a pregnant Bristol.
So I was only kind of wrong.
Not every horrible thing we believe about the right is correct. We may be off by 5-10%.
There is a lesson in this for us all. Do not mess with a 19 year old jock. He or she definitely will get you back.
Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time compares Levi Johnson to Bob Dylan.
I fell into watching “Don’t Look Back” last night, the great documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour through England. Dylan never cared much for the press, even though, as the movie showed, he read the tabloids voraciously and spent a ton to time giving interviews. (He expresses this view in an extended verbal assault on a TIME magazine reporter, arguing that the magazine would get closer to reporting the “truth” if it printed a cut up montage of photographs than the rewritten “facts” that is its usual trade. See the exchange, which is great fun, here.) And in retrospect, the concurrent reporting on Dylan’s early rise was ridiculous. The press struggled mightily to fit Dylan into a box with questions about whether he was “folk” or “rock,” “political” or not, and what his message was for the children. His music was, of course, far bigger, and deeper, than these narratives could contain.
Now this may be a stretch, but I remember thinking something similar when I saw Levi Johnson at the Republican National Convention, standing on stage in Minneapolis with Republican nominee John McCain and his pregnant girlfriend, Bristol Palin. He was so out of place, like a man who had arrived by time machine from the past, or by light speed from a distant galaxy. His world–rural Alaska, hockey, sex, high school, hunting–had almost nothing to do with the media hot box he had been thrown into. The press, meanwhile, struggled to put Levi into a box: What did he represent? Sex education works? It doesn’t work? Premarital sex is inevitable? Avoidable? Etc. But none of the questions had much to do with Johnson. He was just a kid who got his girlfriend pregnant, and then, inexplicably, became famous for it.
Now here we are, a year later, and Levi Johnson has been transformed from media outsider–who like Dylan once had nothing to do with the press or its story lines–to a parody of himself, the star of his own unsigned reality show, made by and for the media machine. He is just another one of those people who has become famous for being famous. He does talk shows, gets followed by paparazzi, and, in his latest incarnation, gets photographed like a model, and paid (presumably) like a rock star, as a correspondent for Vanity Fair. The conceit of his Vanity Fair piece, which he “writes” for the October issue, is that he is going to spill newsworthy dirt on the family of his child’s mother, an act that is without question dishonorable, but for which we all, from the sidelines, applaud, for the same reason that we slow down when passing car wrecks. For those who have any doubt about what is really going on, Vanity Fair has been kind enough to post a video online in which Johnson talks about the size of his penis and how many leaves it would take to cover his genitals if they were photographed by Playgirl. (Now I have your attention, right? Sigh.)
UPDATE: Josh Duboff at New York Magazine
Brian Moylan at Gawker
Jim Treacher at Daily Caller
UPDATE #2: Patterico