"You're not doing interviews like this. Why?" Larry King asked Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin's ex-fiancé and baby daddy, in the first minutes of his show Wednesday night. Perhaps Larry meant that Johnston wasn't doing any more interviews like this. Or perhaps he meant that Johnston wasn't doing interviews like this, wherein he sat across from a man who had recently emerged from a cryogenic chamber with a blinking map of the world in the background. But obviously, Johnston has been doing interviews, and they've mostly resembled this one: First on "The Tyra Banks Show," which prompted a fierce response from Sarah Palin, who called his answers on the show "flat-out lies," and then on the CBS' "Early Show." It's true, the Johnston clan has taken a break from the media but clearly they were waiting for bigger game, and it had finally arrived: Wednesday night prime time with the big man on CNN.
For 40 minutes or so, a rather nervous Johnston talked about his crumbling relationship with the Palins and his struggles to see his 4-month-old son, Tripp. Of course, I use the term "talked" loosely, as Johnston is a 19-year-old of few words, those words being mostly "yeah," "nope" and "I'm not sure." And since King is known for his own strange softball line of questioning, we get these kinds of exchanges:
Larry King: When the convention hit, didn't you say to yourself, my gosh, I'm going to get caught in this. I didn't ask for this! I mean I love this girl -- I slept with her -- but I didn't ask for this. Did you think that?
Levi Johnston: A little bit, yeah.
So what did we learn? Well, Johnston repeated his claim that Sarah Palin "probably knew" he was having sex with Bristol. He said he and Bristol never considered abortion, that the split was mutual. And when King went so far as to ask if he'd had sex in the Palin's house, Johnston broke into an embarrassed grin and responded, "You know, Larry, I'm a gentleman, and I don't kiss and tell. I don't think that really matters." Of course, earlier that day, the National Enquirer reported that Johnston was shopping a tell-all memoir to pay for legal bills, but let's be frank: No one should have to talk to Larry King about having sex. Ever.
A short rundown of other highlights from the first half: Abstinence? Unrealistic. "I think all kids, or most of them, are sexually active." What's up with the ring-finger tattoo? "I was hunting, and I lost the ring she gave me. It was bad. So I figured this way I wouldn't lose it, and it'd get me out of a bind." What was he doing when Sarah Palin's candidacy was announced? Sheep huntin'. "Sheep herding?" King asked, confused. Sheep huntin'. (Yup: Those were the highlights.)
Much of the rest of the interview was devoted to talking about Levi's plight as a father. This has been the family's rallying cry against the Palins, that this isn't about fame or fortune it's about the kid, dammit. "Levi you are a symbol of father's rights," read one of the online comments that scrolled on the bottom of the CNN screen at the beginning of the show. Although I suspect that lonely, optimistic soul had yearned for a symbol who was a tad more articulate and forthcoming and able to answer squarely, for instance, whether or not he had a lawyer. (Johnston at first said he did not, but then, after a commercial break, admitted that he did.)
"Are you worried that saying you have a lawyer will alienate the Palins?" asked King.
Johnston shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, I don't want to stir anything up."
Throughout, Johnston seemed to be simply unsure what he could, or should, or was allowed to say. He seemed overwhelmed and lost. "We're not in a fight with the Palins," he said, althought that was followed by, "If it keeps going like this I guess we'll have to" go to court. And then later, when a viewer asked how much he paid in child support, Levi answered, "I ain't doing a whole lot of child support until we go to court. I got everything my boy needs back home -- diapers, toys, everything, and once we go to court and deal with that, you know ..."
Eventually, Johnston was joined by his sister Mercede, who once again rehashed her feud with Bristol, and his mother, Sherry, who confirmed after a bit of sidestepping that, yes, they planned to go to court to fight for child custody when they got back to Alaska. "That is the step we're going to have to go to."
Johnston got the special treat of hearing how CNN's bloggers had been slogging him: "Aren't his 15 minutes up? Levi, shame on you for going public with such private matters! This behavior does nothing to help your little boy!"
To the accusation that he is seeking fame, he simply responded, "I didn't ask to be thrown into this. I'm just trying to get my story out there. I'm not looking to be a celebrity." And of what became of his relationship with Bristol, he said, "She changed after the campaign. That wasn't the Bristol I knew before she got pregnant. She's totally different now, in a big way."
Larry King has never been known for probing deep, but his final question was illuminating. He asked something of Levi that no one -- in all the questions about Sarah Palin and unprotected sex and child custody -- had thought to ask. "Levi, have you finished high school?"
Levi admitted he hadn't graduated, that he still had to take a final test.
"You gonna do that?" King asked.
(Portions of the interview can be viewed below.)