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Sure, Palin can get Adam Bellow to drop the last fig leaf from his commercial privates and turn Jonathan Burnham into an openly gay publisher of a vicious homophobe, but what courage does that take? Sure, Palin can bamboozle the press corps with fantastic lies, and a press strategy currently being used by Tiger Woods, but in the face of all this, a 19-year-old was prepared to one-up her with Vanity Fair and Playgirl and act as if he had not a care in the world.

And what a story he has told.

It is as follows: Palin is a total fraud. She is not what she says she is. According to someone who lived with her for years, who fathered her grandson and fell in love with her daughter, the last thing she is is what her followers blindly believe: authentic.

She's a phony, according to Johnston, a negligent mother, a devious plotter, an alienated wife. Far from a "real American", she is layer upon layer of political artifice, designed cynically to appeal to pro-lifers and feminists, evangelicals and populists, independents and rock-ribbed Republicans, all laid on top of a fanatically narcissistic sociopathy. Here's a taste of what Johnston has asserted:

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 cookthe 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.

Remember that Johnston is the only family member who actually knew and lived with Palin and has broken ranks. He could be lying, of course, or seeking revenge, or bargaining for more access to his son, or something else we don;t know about. But given Palin's record of dissimulation, it seems to me he deserves at least as fair a hearing as she has had, even if nothing like the millions she has raked in. His story deserves to be taken more seriously as a real account of what Palin really is. Until Wallace and Schmidt screw their courage to the sticking place, he's the best we've got.

Here, for example, is his recounting of an incident that few MSM observers can quite handle:

Sarah told me she had a great idea: we would keep it a secretnobody 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 naggingshe 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.

So the "outrageous" conspiracy theory aired on the Internets in late August 2008 that Palin had a cockamamie idea to pass off her daughter's baby as her own actually happened, according to Johnston. But it was not about Trig as the soon-debunked rumors first had it - whom Bristol simply could not have chronologically given birth to. But it was about Tripp - and indicative of a deeply deceptive, half-nuts mentality. I mean: did Palin think she could ever have gotten away with that kind of baby switcheroo, when the real father and mother opposed it? Notice that this was not planned as an open adoption. It was designed to hide Bristol's pregnancy, which would remain a total secret, meaning "nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant," meaning in turn that Palin's own pregnancy would have had to be faked. Now, maybe Levi is just harassing Palin using half-baked Internet rumors about Trig to apply to Tripp. But, again, she is the one with the record of proven lies, not Johnston. And what this says about Palin's capability for outright deception is quite striking, if true.

Johnston's account for the reasons for Palin's bizarre resignation are also more convincing than Palin's classic insistence that she was quitting because she was not a quitter:

Sarah was sad for a while. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make "triple the money." It was, to her, "not as hard." She would blatantly say, "I want to just take this money and quit being governor." She started to say it frequently, but she didn't know how to do it. When she came home from work, it seemed like she was more and more stressed out. It seemed like she couldn't handle the job anymore. I think that she was just through with it all or that she'd become used to getting everything she wanted handed to her. She'd rather take the money and keep that kind of lifestyle. When a magazine offered six figures to be at the hospital when Bristol gave birth, she said yes at first but then told us not to do it.

She was not exactly a diligent governor either:

Throughout the years I spent with them, when Sarah got home from her office almost never later than 5 and sometimes as early as noon she usually walked in the door, said hello, and then disappeared into her bedroom, where she would hang out. Sometimes, she’d take an hourlong bath. Other times she sat on the living-room couch in her two-piece pajama set from Walmart she had all the colors with her hair down, watching house shows and wedding shows on TV. She always wanted things and she always wanted other people to get them for her. If she wanted a movie, Bristol and I would go to the video store; if she wanted food, we’d get her something to eat, like a Crunchwrap Supreme from Taco Bell. She’d try to bribe everyone in the house, or give us guilt trips. She used to make Bristol feel bad by telling her that she did everything for her. This was unfair because, even before the campaign, Bristol was already the mom in the house, and she got tired of having to take care of her siblings.

What can we make of this?

It's unverifiable - but no less so than Palin's autobiography. And compared with her bizarre, constantly changing stories and multiple lies about any number of empirically indisputable facts, Johnston's monosyllabic yeses and nos and plain English eye-witness accounts that have never changed are like oases of sanity and calm.

When I got to meet Johnston, I asked him simply how he seemed so calm as a nineteen year old up against an international celebrity with millions of dollars and every pimp in the "publishing" and political industries trying to suck up to her. "Because I'm tellin' the truth," was his simple, and immediate answer.

I can't know who's telling the truth for sure. But after a decade of frauds enabled and abetted by political corruption and media cowardice, Palin might well be the biggest fraud of all, perpetrating a hoax so massive no one can quite see it. Perhaps the most memorable quote of the year came when Levi said quite simply, even after unloading all of the above:

"There are some things that I have that are huge. And I haven't said them because I'm not gonna hurt her that way ... I have things that can, you know -- that would get her in trouble, and could hurt her. Will hurt her. But I'm not gonna go that far. You know, I mean, if I really wanted to hurt her, I could, very easily. But there's -- I'm not gonna do it. I'm not going that far.

Or as he also put it:

:She knows what I got on her."

But the rest of us don't.

Yet.

(Photo: GQ).

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