America’s favourite redneck and former-future-son-in-law of Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston, has been making waves in the media with a candid interview for Vanity Fair that hits newsstands in America today. The article isn’t online yet (“yet” being the operative word here — please come through with the goods for us, Mr Wolff), but you can read many of the quotes here.

In it, he makes the inflammatory claims that Palin wanted to adopt the baby he had with daughter Bristol, that she quit politics in the pursuit of more cash, and just generally rags on her as a parent and human being.

But beyond the tabloids, much of the media is more interested in the ethics of the interview than its actual content: is Levi milking his 15 seconds dry by unfairly dishing personal dirt on Palin? Or is the former Alaskan governor fair game since she lopped off his mullet, stuck him in a suit jacket and paraded him in front of the nation as a walking billboard for her family’s conservative Christian values?

On Palin’s side, The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus opines:

Johnston is an opportunistic creep … Sarah Palin didn’t deserve to be vice president — but she didn’t deserve this either.

In London’s Telegraph, Lucy Jones labels Johnston “a teenage scumbag who would put his ego before his child”:

Whatever you make of the Republican politician, she doesn’t come off worse in this lazy, base ‘exposé’ — Johnston does. And how is he going to explain this interview to his son one day?

TIME‘s Michael Scherer is not angry at Johnston, just disappointed:

Levi Johnston has been transformed from media outsider … 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.

Johnston could have taught us all something … by ignoring the Klieg lights and going on with his life, becoming whoever it is that he should have become. Instead, he became something we have seen before, something to ogle and stare at, something not very interesting at all.

But in Levi’s corner, Gawker hits back:

Yes, Levi is shamelessly cashing in on his brief moment in the sun, but if it weren’t for the GOP and their collective delusion about the realities of teenage life, he never would have had a platform to begin with … Levi Johnston, we salute you.

Firmly on the fence sits The New York Times‘ Gail Collins, who admits she actually feels some sympathy for Sarah Palin for the first time and derides Johnston’s accusations as the immature barbs of a “self-absorbed teenager”, but concedes the interview is “hard to totally resist” and that if it wasn’t for his lack of credibility, it might serve as “fair payback for the Levi-Bristol convention appearance.”

And that’s probably the truth of it: whether you side with Palin or not, you will read almost certainly read — or read about — the article. The real winner here isn’t Levi Johnston or the Democrats; it’s the team at Vanity Fair for identifying the perfect cover story and the perfect patsy to deliver it for them.

Peter Fray

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