Why Levi Did It

What it means for Palin, and the echoes of a certain 2008 conspiracy theory

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Levi Johnston spills many, many beans in a tell-all for the forthcoming Vanity Fair, excerpts of which just went online. Here are the key revelations:

  1. Johnston said Palin wanted to adopt his and Bristol's baby. "We would keep it a secret—nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant," he wrote. "She didn’t want people to know that her 17-year-old daughter was going to have a kid."
  2. "There wasn’t much parenting in that house," he said of the Palin household.
  3. After returning from the campaign, "she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make 'triple the money,'" Johnston said of Palin. "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."

And here are the initial readings of what they mean.

  • Very, Very Bad News for Palin Talking Points Memo's M.J. Rosenberg said the story painted the Palin as "more utterly hypocritical than even I imagined. He wrote, "Palin won't survive this because -- no matter how you cut it -- this teenager is infinitely more credible than Palin." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, who is perhaps the foremost critic of Palin, was pointed but surprisingly measured in his reaction. "This exercise is called 'proof of principle,'" he wrote. "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."
  • Levi's Revenge  "Johnston certainly has an axe to grind," wrote The Atlantic's Chris Good. "Since the end of the campaign, it's become clear that Johnston does not like Sarah Palin very much. He has complained about not being able to see his baby." Good noted, "Johnston also has aspirations of a modeling career, and the Vanity Fair spread will include a couple model-esque shots of him to accompany the piece." Indeed, Vanity Fair includes a video wherein Johnston tells his bodyguard he would consider modeling for Playgirl.
  • Grain of Salt  Alex Koppelman isn't buying it. "There's good reason to be skeptical about this story; it's based on Johnston's word alone, as far as the excerpts published by Vanity Fair indicate, for one thing," he wrote. Kevin Drum was skeptical as well. "Does this sound believable?  I'm not sure." Of the adoption story, he wrote, "I confess that I'm not sure this passes the credibility test either."
  • Conspiracy Theories Redeemed?  During the campaign, Sullivan and others speculated as to whether Tripp, Bristol's child, was really Sarah's. Johnston's story "isn't quite the theory that Andrew Sullivan and others weighed during the presidential campaign -- to the great fury of Sarah Palin's supporters -- but it's uncomfortably close," wrote Ben Smith. "My friends said I was a conspiracy nut," said Rosenberg, who shared the theory. "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%."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.