In what might be one of the strangest cable interviews of this year (okay, perhaps just this week), Levi Johnston sat down with MSNBC star Lawrence O’Donnell for the second episode of the host’s new “The Last Word” program last night.
In a segment titled “Spotlight,” O’Donnell grilled Johnston on matters ranging from the Middle East to birth control. As O’Donnell explained it, the twenty-year-old’s political aspirations made the line of questioning legit (because the mayor of Wasilla needs an Afghanistan exit strategy, we guess), but the result was just awkwardly hilarious—Johnston squirming under the Couric-like fire (most of the questions were drawn from those she had asked Palin in 2008); O’Donnell giving Johnston fatherly encouragement as he confessed, several times, to not knowing much about the issues. It could have been an SNL skit.
The tone was set at the top of the interview:
O’Donnell: Will you be running as a Tea Party Republican or as an establishment Republican?
Johnston: That’s actually undecided. I’m registered as a Republican. You know, most of my family is Republican. I do however have one Democrat in my family.
O: You do? Ooo, what’s that like on Thanksgiving with the Democrat at the table?
J: He actually lives in Colorado. He doesn’t come around…
Then O’Donnell, interested in establishing Johnston’s worldview, went down the Couric road:
O: What newspapers and magazines do you read regularly?
J: I read the Frontiersman every once in a while… I’m not going to sit here and tell you I read a lot of newspapers. I don’t get the New York Times, I don’t watch a whole lot of news, I don’t watch TV that often.
O: And what’s your position on global warming, do you believe it’s manmade or not?
L: [Laughs] No I don’t. [Takes a sip from his coffee mug with an is-this-really-happening grin on his face.]
Then, O’Donnell hit a little closer to home…
O: How do you feel about the morning after pill?
L: That’s the girl’s decision. Same with abstinence. I don’t believe in abstinence. I feel like if you’re having unprotected sex, you get the girl pregnant, you should have the baby. Trip was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Before moving far, far, away again:
O: Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or as one of several theories?
L: Phew, you’re kinda getting over my head on these things here. I don’t really know how to answer that question.
O: That’s an answer, and that’s what I like, is an honest politician who’s willing to say I don’t know when he doesn’t know.
Then it was on to foreign affairs:
O: In Afghanistan, do you believe additional U.S. troops will solve the problem there?
L: I have no idea.
O: The United States, as you know, is deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Do you think the Pakistani government is protecting Al Qaeda within its borders?
L: Like I said, I don’t watch a lot of TV.
O: Do you believe the U.S. should negotiate with leaders like president Assad and Ahmadinejad?
L: Yeah, I do. I think we should reason with everybody.
Why Johnston was invited on O’Donnell’s show is beyond us (he followed an interview with Charlie Crist; Joe Biden was a guest the night before). Why O’Donnell didn’t just cut straight to the Dancing With the Stars questions is equally baffling (perhaps the host was looking for a viral YouTube hit). Sure, Johnston’s sort of a politician now, fair game and whatnot, but not in any serious way. The questions were as incongruous as Johnston being there in the first place.
Can’t wait to hear what this week’s upcoming guests David Axelrod and Michael Bloomberg have to say about Katy Perry’s canceled Sesame Street appearance.Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.