TODAY   |  July 14, 2010

Newly engaged Bristol ‘scared’ of mom’s reaction

Us Weekly editor Caroline Schaefer speaks with TODAY’s Natalie Morales about the magazine breaking the news of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston’s engagement and why the couple chose to announce their plans so publically before telling Sarah Palin.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

NATALIE MORALES reporting: Well, the cat is now out of the bag. The daughter of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is back together with Levi Johnston , the father of her infant son. And get this, the two are now engaged. That may have come as quite a shock to Sarah and Todd Palin as well, since Bristol says she never told her parents. The couple gave an exclusive interview to Us Weekly . Caroline Schaefer is the executive editor. Caroline , good morning.

Ms. CAROLINE SCHAEFER (Executive Editor, Us Weekly): Good morning.

MORALES: Given all the public feuding, all of the water that's under that bridge now, I think so many people are surprised but probably most surprised that Sarah Palin really didn't have that much of a heads-up when it came to this. Why did Bristol decide to come to you, to the magazine, to reveal this news?

Ms. SCHAEFER: Bristol came to us because she felt like she needed to say what she wanted to say. she needed to have a platform to tell the whole story, how they fell in love, why they broke up, how they got back together, and now how they plan to be a family. And she didn't know that she would necessarily have that opportunity if the information came out otherwise.

MORALES: I know that they were very scared and intimidated, as she said...

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yes.

MORALES: ...as she said, as to what the reaction would be from Sarah Palin . And we have a statement now this morning from the Palins and they say, " Bristol at 19 is now a young adult. We obviously want what is best for our children. Bristol believes in redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice in our daily lives." So of course, they're going to try to put as much of a positive spin, although maybe a little subtext there. But do you think the Palins were completely surprised this morning with this news?

Ms. SCHAEFER: I think they must have been somewhat surprised; however, they're -- they have been building the groundwork.

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SCHAEFER: You know, six weeks ago Levi went over to Sarah 's and apologized in person and basically told her that he loves Bristol , he wants to be there for their son, Tripp . And, you know, so it's been -- they've been trying to build that foundation.

MORALES: They've been building it.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yeah.

MORALES: And just last week, as you said, he came out publicly...

Ms. SCHAEFER: He did.

MORALES: ...and issued an apology. So do you think that has gone over well enough?

Ms. SCHAEFER: I think it's a start, and Bristol obviously says, you know, we're going to have to do some marriage counseling because those things that he said about the family were very hurtful, and you know she's just not going to let, you know, forget them easily.

MORALES: Yeah. I mean, certainly a lot of bad blood I think in the past over this.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Definitely. Very bitter.

MORALES: And they're still very, very young. I mean, she's 19, he's 20 years old.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yeah.

MORALES: They have this 18-month-old child together. Bristol says, though, that Levi has really changed. Do you really get a sense that they're in this now for the long haul?

Ms. SCHAEFER: They say that they are. Their relationship -- you know, they have known each other since they were kids, they really grew up together, so there's a comfort level. He really has said that he is going to step up to the plate. He's going to get a job, he's going to finish his education. He really wants to be there for Tripp and for Bristol .

MORALES: He wants to be the dad, exactly.

Ms. SCHAEFER: He wants to be the dad.

MORALES: And he actually got very emotional, I understand, during the interview...

Ms. SCHAEFER: He did.

MORALES: ...when Bristol actually confronted him about, as she said, "the lies that he has told about her family in the past."

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yes.

MORALES: In fact, if we go back even exactly a year ago almost to the day on this program, shortly after Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska , he was on with Ann in the program and he talked then about the fact that he thought the fame had gotten to Sarah Palin 's head.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Mm-hmm.

MORALES: That she wanted to cash in on it and then take a listen to the rest of what he said.

ANN CURRY reporting: Hm. Do you believe she's equipped to be president?

Mr. LEVI JOHNSTON: Yes and no .

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JOHNSTON: I mean, she's very smart but I just don't think -- if she can't handle the stress level as governor, I don't think she can handle it as president or vice president.

MORALES: I mean, he's -- you know, there's been so much bad blood.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Definitely.

MORALES: I mean, the photo shoot that he did posing nude for Playgirl . So, I mean, there's going to have to be a lot of apologizing.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yes.

MORALES: Do you feel that Bristol is seeing him as a completely changed person?

Ms. SCHAEFER: I don't think she sees him as completely changed and she acknowledges they're going to do some marriage counseling.

MORALES: Right.

Ms. SCHAEFER: And -- so he still has a lot of apologizing to do and she's very firm with the fact that, you know, he is going to have to apologize and make a lot of inroads if he is going to...

MORALES: With the family.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Absolutely. He's going to have to work hard because family is very important to her.

MORALES: And the other question a lot of people, I think, were thinking about when they first heard the news this morning is why the rush to get married because they say they want to do it very soon.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Right.

MORALES: A lot of people questioning is she pregnant again. And she talked to you about that.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yes. She said, `I'm absolutely not pregnant again.' She thinks that people will think that, but she actually is supportive of abstinence now. She says that she and Levi are not having sex and they're not going to live together until they are married.

MORALES: That's right . So they've been living separately until then. And they also have been starting planning this very quick wedding.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yes. They're -- they have a lot of...

MORALES: No wedding date set, but...

Ms. SCHAEFER: Not yet. They hope to do it in the next few weeks, maybe a month or six weeks. You know, they have a lot of dreams for their wedding. They want to have a small ceremony in Alaska , outdoors. She wants to include camo somehow. She wants Levi to wear a camo vest or something like that.

MORALES: OK.

Ms. SCHAEFER: Yeah.

MORALES: Of course, nothing should surprise us, given this couple now, right?

Ms. SCHAEFER: Right.

MORALES: All right. Well, to be a fly on the wall in the Palin household this morning. We can only imagine what was going on. Congratulations on the issue.