Levi Johnston's Rise In Media Examined

The October issue of Vanity Fair magazine features an interview with Levi Johnston, about his interactions with the Palin family. Johnston dated former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol and fathered Bristol's child. The couple have since split. Brendan Joel Kelley, associate editor of the Anchorage Press, says attorney Rex Butler and private investigator Tank Jones are behind Johnston's rise.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I am about to utter two words that many of you will consider beneath this program, but they are two words that many of you will probably utter this week. Ready? Levi Johnston - the ex of Sarah Palin's daughter and the father of Palin's grandson, Tripp, has given an interview to Vanity Fair in which he is critical of the former Alaska governor and Republican candidate for vice president.

At 19, Johnston has now been on "Larry King," "The Today Show," "The Early Show." He even appeared on the "Tyra Banks Show" with his sister and their mother, who just pled guilty to dealing OxyContin. On that show, Banks took embarrassment to previously unplumbed depths.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Tyra Banks Show")

Ms. TYRA BANKS (Host, "Tyra Banks Show"): So, I have to ask you a personal question. But you're on my Tyra couch and there are no personal questions. Were you practicing safe sex?

Mr. LEVI JOHNSTON: Yeah.

Ms. BANKS: Even when the baby was conceived?

Mr. JOHNSTON: We were.

Ms. BANKS: And so, there was a wardrobe malfunction?

Mr. JOHNSTON: I guess.

Ms. BANKS: Yeah?

SIEGEL: How's all this playing in Alaska, and who's running the media campaign for this teenage hockey-playing high school dropout from Wasilla. Well, joining us is Brendan Joel Kelley of the Anchorage Press, that's an alternative weekly. And first, Brendan Joel Kelley, who is the coaching staff of team Levi here?

Mr. BRENDAN JOEL KELLEY (Associate Editor, Anchorage Press): The coaching staff is actually his mother's attorney, Rex Butler, who defended her in the OxyContin case. And then a private investigator who works alongside Rex, named Tank Jones.

SIEGEL: And they're guiding Levi Johnston through this national media campaign?

Mr. KELLEY: Yeah, they've sort of switched their roles from that of defense attorney and private investigator into, you know, agents at CAA and are basically marketing the young man.

SIEGEL: You interviewed Levi Johnston?

Mr. KELLEY: I did, about four or five weeks ago. It was in Rex Butler's office alongside Tank Jones. When I asked Levi a question, his eyes would dart to one or the other of them to make sure that he could answer such questions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: What do people in Alaska make of all this, as Levi Johnston has become, I gather, one of the more prominent Alaskans in mass media this year?

Mr. KELLEY: It's unfortunate. We would really like to shed this tabloid image, Robert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, Vanity Fair is not going to let you for a while.

Mr. KELLEY: No.

SIEGEL: In the article he talks about Sarah Palin. Self-described hockey mom says she didn't show up at too many hockey games.

Mr. KELLEY: He does indeed say that. I've seen some things coming out today that show some contradictions between what Levi said previously and what he's saying in the Vanity Fair article about the adoption thing, which is really the bombshell out of the excerpts that have been released. That Sarah had encouraged Bristol and Levi to keep the pregnancy a secret, and that she and Todd would adopt the baby. But he had told CNN's Larry King that adoption was never considered, abortion was never considered.

SIEGEL: And his relationship to Rex Butler, which has two dimensions. Rex Butler represented his mother pro-bono?

Mr. KELLEY: That's my understanding, yeah.

SIEGEL: But their work for Levi Johnston is not pro-bono.

Mr. KELLEY: It's my understanding that they would get some sort of cut of whatever income he's going to take in, if he gets a reality show, if he gets movie roles - some of the things that they've talked about.

SIEGEL: I don't know what's required for one to make a career of a reality show, but was your impression of him from the interview that he has some talent? He's an interesting young man?

Mr. KELLEY: Well - he's a fairly interesting young man. The, sort of, reality shows that he was talking about - he told me that he had been approached with "Who Wants to Date Levi Johnston?" Where they'd send 30 beautiful girls up here and he would take them hunting and fishing. And his response to me was, I can't handle one girl, much less 30. So I think he's sort of aiming to stay away from the more tabloidy versions of reality shows, but do something more Alaskan.

SIEGEL: Well, Brendan Joel Kelley, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. KELLEY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Brendan Joel Kelley, who's associate editor of the Anchorage Press, which is an alternative weekly in Alaska.

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