Levi Johnston Recants Apology to Palins, CBS Rewards with Four-Minute 'Exclusive'

Continuing their obsession with the credibility-challenged Levi Johnston, whose sole claim to fame is his continuing ability to exploit his relationship with Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, CBS's The Early Show on Friday devoted more than four minutes to an "exclusive" interview with the "reality star" and how he now recants his apology for lying about the Palins in previous interviews.

To her credit, correspondent Betty Nguyen challenged Johnston's openly frivolous approach to running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (a stunt concocted for a reality show) and whether his temporary apology was "honest" (he said it was "something I did to make my fiancee happy").

But CBS has shown a particular fetish for publicizing Johnston's antics, especially his slams of Sarah Palin. Back in July, NewsBusters' Kyle Drennen documented five lengthy Early Show features of Johnston, including two "exclusive" interviews, one of which aired over two days. Always, CBS touted the anti-Sarah Palin angle, as they did again today with the on-screen headline: "Levi's Regrets; Johnston Sorry He Made Palin Apology."

As for Johnston himself, he ludicrously claimed that his interest in running for mayor of Wasilla was completely independent of the fact that it used to be Sarah Palin's job ("I don't care what she did or where she was at. I'm doing it because I want to").

And, just weeks after he apologized for lying about the Palin's, he insisted that everything he's said is true: "The only thing I wish I wouldn't have done is put out that apology. Because it kind of makes me sound like a liar. And I've never lied about anything."

The only thing less credible than that is the notion that CBS is repeatedly showcasing this publicity hound for any reason other than to embarrass Sarah Palin and diminish her political clout.

Here's the transcript of the August 27 segment:

7am tease:

ERICA HILL: Not sorry. In an exclusive Early Show interview, Levi Johnston opens up and says he now regrets apologizing to Sarah Palin. CLIP OF LEVI JOHNSTON: The only thing I wish I wouldn't have done is put out that apology because it kind of makes me sound like a liar.


ERICA HILL: First, though, we want to bring you this. You're about to see a whole lot more of Levi Johnston, it turn out. That's because the father of Sarah Palin's grandson is now shooting his own reality show. He's also, of course, running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Just how does he plan on pulling it all off? He talked about that and much more in an exclusive Early Show interview with CBS News correspondent Betty Nguyen.

LEVI JOHNSTON, walking on a sidewalk next to Betty Nguyen: If I do win, then we'll have to give Hollywood up for three years.

BETTY NGUYEN: For now, Levi Johnston isn't giving up the Hollywood spotlight. He got his first taste of fame during the 2008 Republican Convention when introduced as father of Bristol Palin's baby. He's now looking to extend his 15 minutes with a new reality show, featuring his attempt at Wasilla's top job. [to Johnston] Do you think you're going to win?

JOHNSTON: I do, I do.

NGUYEN: Why? You've never run for a political office before. You don't have a high school diploma. What are your qualifications to become mayor of Wasilla?

JOHNSTON: I really don't think it's, mayor is about qualifications. It's really about, you know, the people liking you and believing in you.

NGUYEN: But you make it sound like it's a popularity contest. Running for mayor, that office is a serious job.

JOHNSTON: Well, it's definitely serious. You know, obviously, you want people's votes. At the end of the day, it is kind of a popularity. Like, whoever - you know, the people love most they'll vote for.

NGUYEN: You're well aware that Sarah Palin used to once hold that office. Did that factor in at all as to you choosing to run for mayor?

JOHNSTON: I don't care what she did or where she was at. I'm doing it because I want to.

NGUYEN: Johnston and Bristol Palin announced their engagement in an "Us" weekly magazine spread last month, but just one week later it was called off after Bristol felt he was mocking her family in a music video. [to Johnston] What caused you to break off the last engagement?

JOHNSTON: It was just miserable for the both of us, you know. I mean, we were constantly fighting, just trying to make it work for Tripp. It just wasn't the right thing to do.

NGUYEN: Bristol now appears to be moving on with her life. New reports say she's signing on for her own shot at stardom. [to Johnston] I hear that she's doing Dancing with the Stars - is that true?

JOHNSTON: I recently heard that, yeah. Great. Go for it.

NGUYEN: In an interview with People magazine, it was Bristol who accused Levi of ruining their relationship with his hunger for fame. [to Johnson] Bristol said that you're obsessed with the limelight and that she was played. Is that true?

JOHNSTON: I don't think I'm any more obsessed with making a career out of this than she is. Obviously, she's doing Dancing with the Stars.

NGUYEN: You've posed for Playgirl, participated in a music video, now a reality show. Are you obsessed with the limelight?

JOHNSTON: I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with it. I'm just taking opportunities as they come.

NGUYEN: For the past year and a half, Levi has been engaged in a public spat with Bristol's mom, Sarah Palin, including a scathing interview published in Vanity Fair. Earlier this month, Levi publicly apologized. [to Johnston] You've apologized, in fact, to the Palin family, saying: "I hope to one day restore your trust." Was that an honest apology? Do you still feel that way?

JOHNSTON: That was something I did to make my fiancee happy. You know, she wanted it, so we wrote something down and we sent it out because that's what she wanted.

NGUYEN: "We wrote it down" - did she write it, or did you write it?

JOHNSTON: Well, I'm not going to get into all that, but I'm just going to say, together we put it out there.

NGUYEN: Well, why would you say something that's not true if it wasn't true?

JOHNSTON: Trust me, it's easier to make them happy, I'm telling you. You've got to live with them, you've got to make them happy.

NGUYEN: Do you have any regrets?

JOHNSTON: I don't really regret anything, but the only thing I wish I wouldn't have done is put out that apology. Because it kind of makes me sound like a liar. And I've never lied about anything. The rest of the stuff I can live with.

NGUYEN: Betty Nguyen, CBS News, Los Angeles.

HILL: Levi says he is done with marriage, at least for now, but does still hope to have more children in the future. In the meantime, he is working on earning his high school diploma and getting a team in place to advise him on just what it takes to run a city, in case he's elected.

-Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.