November 4, 2009 - 1:00am
It's no secret that the media loathe Sarah Palin, but the recent attention given to Levi Johnston proves how far they will go to smear her name.
Johnston is the father of Palin's grandson, ex-boyfriend of Palin's daughter Bristol and future Playgirl centerfold. He penned an article for the October issue of Vanity Fair in which he accused the former vice-presidential candidate and governor of Alaska of diva-like behavior, poor parenting, hiding a troubled marriage and repeatedly calling her youngest son the “retarded baby.”
To CBS, this was more grist for the anti-Palin mill. It seemingly confirmed every media-generated caricature of Palin – and provided the extra nuggets of gossip about hypocrisy and a troubled marriage. “The Early Show” booked Johnston for a two-part exclusive interview that aired Oct. 28 and 29, the third interview with him in six months. CBS's nightly gossip show, “Entertainment Tonight,” booked him for another two-part interview that aired Oct. 29 and Oct. 30.
CBS: Head Cheerleader for Levi
Back in September, the “Early Show's” Maggie Rodriguez told co-host Harry Smith that she “didn't know” if Johnston “seemed credible.” But a month is a long time – enough time for Rodriguez to get comfortable enough with Johnston's dubious credibility to conduct an exclusive, two-part interview with him last week about his allegations and his upcoming plans to pose for Playgirl.
CBS Correspondent Kelly Wallace reported as fact in September when the Vanity Fair piece hit newsstands, “Johnston debunks the popular image of Palin as hockey mom and moose hunter, telling Vanity Fair that 'she doesn't hunt, doesn't read, doesn't work hard, doesn't spend time with her family, but instead spends all night alone in her bedroom.” She continued, “As for Sarah and Todd's marriage, Johnston says they constantly threatened each other with divorce. 'Once the cameras would leave, they didn't talk to each other. I've never seen them sleep in the same bedroom.'”
Part one of Rodriguez' latest interview with Johnston focused mainly on Palin's parenting abilities and marriage, including his accusation that Palin referred to Trig, her baby with Down syndrome, as retarded.
“She'd be like, where's my retarded baby?” claimed Johnston.
The use of the word “retarded” seemed to reawaken Rodriguez's skepticism, and she even asked, “Can you understand why that's really hard to believe that a mother would say that?”
As for the Palin's marriage, Johnston the Palins “talked about” divorce and “would fight in front of the kids about” it. Rodriguez asked Johnston, “Why should people believe you versus her?” She also commented to Johnston that he sounded like “somebody who is bent on revenge and getting even.”
Johnston insisted he wasn't speaking out of revenge. Although he admitted “I have no proof of showing you it's true” about the name-calling allegation, he said people “don't really have a reason not to believe me.”
In part two of the interview, Rodriguez allowed Johnston to equate his full-frontal appearance in Playgirl to Palin's book release. She asked, “What if Sarah Palin and her husband and her family see this and think, 'this is not what we're all about, this is not someone that we want close to our family' and this winds up pushing you farther apart from them?”
Johnston replied, “I don't think it should matter what – in their eyes what I'm doing. She's doing her thing, I'm doing mine. You know, she's doing her book, she's quit and is going for her money, so I don't see how – we're you know, kind of on the same page here.”
Rodriguez also reported another unsubstantiated claim from Johnston: “Levi claims Sarah Palin had other ideas about raising their son Tripp, in fact, he says she approached him and Bristol with a plan to hide the pregnancy and then adopt the baby herself.” Johnston stated that it “hurt Bristol” and Palin “mentioned it several times.”
Rodriguez asked if it might be “possible” that he was “exaggerating things,” but Johnston insisted, “I stand by my story 100 percent and everything in it is the truth.”
In a small strike for balance, Rodriguez read a statement issued by Palin in response to Johnston's accusations at the end of the second part of the interview. “CBS should be ashamed for continually providing a forum to propagate lies,” the statement said in part. It also urged CBS to “consider the source of the most recent attention-getting lies.”
Rodriguez defended CBS's decision to spotlight Johnston, and noted, “We raised all those questions about credibility and his motivation for doing this and you heard how he answered.”
Levi Johnston, “Entertainment Tonight” Star
CBS made sure that evening viewers also had the chance to hear Johnson answer, as “Entertainment Tonight” ran yet another two-part interview with Johnston.
“ET's” Mark Steines gave Johnston another opportunity to trash Palin as a terrible mother in a rocky marriage when his interview aired last week.
Steines accepted as fact Johnston's claims that Palin repeatedly called her son Trig “retarded” and that she wanted to keep Bristol's pregnancy a secret by adopting her baby in the first part of the interview that aired on Oct. 29.
Johnston also claimed “Bristol was more the mom [to Trig] than [Palin] was and that he was coming forward with these allegations now because Palin had previously “questioned [his] credibility.”
Steines attributed great clout to Johnston, asking him “You have some stuff on Sarah Palin, essentially that should make her very scared. Could it take her down?”
“Some things probably could,” Johnston agreed.
Later Steines reported that Johnston “would like a greater role in the custody [of his baby] and thinks court may be the next step,” but failed to ask him if a good first step toward that goal would be to stop trashing his child's grandparents at every opportunity.
The second part of the interview, aired on Oct. 30, focused on Johnston's claim of marital disharmony in the Palin household. Steines asked him, “Do you think this relationship is headed for divorce?”
In his response, Johnston portrayed his son's grandparents as calculating. “They are going to wait it out. They are going to be smart and do it when the time is right.” He elaborated to Steines that “they never seemed like a normal, married couple,” “their communication was horrible” and Palin is “good at puttin' on a front.”
The Enemy of my Enemy …
Perhaps CBS acquired a taste for Palin's blood when Katie Couric used a September 2008 interview to demean and embarrass the then-GOP vice presidential candidate. And Vanity Fair may still be going on adrenaline from its nasty June hit-piece on her by Todd Purdum. But both should be more circumspect.
Johnston's Vanity Fair expose violated various portions of the Code of Ethics provided by the Society of Professional Journalists, particularly the lines about showing good taste and avoiding “pandering to lurid curiosity,” and its admonitions to “avoid conflicts of interest.” Since Johnston's career largely depends upon being invited on to CBS to bash the Palins, most would categorize that as a “conflict of interest.”
And in flattering Johnston with all the attention, CBS is going where even its liberal media cohort seems reluctant to follow. Reporters at ABC and NBC expressed skepticism about Johnston's claims in September , when the Vanity Fair piece first hit newsstands. Even ABC's Diane Sawyer asked, “When does he stop? Does he stop now?”
ABC did not cover Johnston's latest media tour. NBC briefly discussed the interviews but labeled the feud “ugly.
Even Joy Behar, who is no great fan of Sarah Palin, called Johnston “an idiot” for his statements on her Oct. 29 “Joy Behar Show.” She also ridiculed his decision to pose for Playgirl, and asked, “Does he know that mostly gay guys read that book?”
Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “The accusations of an underemployed 19-year-old - who has a career incentive to dish out dirt on Palin – are not exactly credible.” She characterized Johnston as “the scratch for the itch of partisans so anxious to feel superior to Palin that they will consume any negative story about her, no matter how tainted.”
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter put it best, labeling Johnston a “white trash idiot” during the Oct. 31 “Geraldo at Large. The “only reason they [some media outlets] keep showing it [his interviews] is to cause [Palin's] family pain.”
Coulter's co-panelist Kirsten Powers agreed and pointed out the double standard by which the media operates. “I don't understand why we take anything he says with any sense of credibility. I really do not understand it. And I do not believe that somebody of the same status coming out against a Kennedy would be on the level of shows that they are on.”
Last year's media coverage of Palin provided a new low standard for journalism CMI documented the media's ruthless and constant character assassination of her during the 2008 campaign. They stopped at nothing to portray her as unintelligent and unqualified, even going so far as to run “Saturday Night Live” clips of Tina Fey's Palin ad nauseum until people couldn't be positive that the real Palin didn't say “I can see Russia from my house.”
Sure, CBS's Rodriguez raised questions about Johnston's credibility, but if there were that many concerns over what he had to say, he had no business appearing on the “Early Show” as a source.
Kudos to ABC for ignoring Johnston's latest attacks, and shame on CBS for entertaining his unproven – and un-provable – smears.
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