Media Knives Come Out Over the Downfall of Petraeus: The Facts You Need to Know

The woman who ultimately was responsible for sparking the investigation into David Petraeus’ extramarital affair has been identified as someone who was getting harassing emails from Petraeus' alleged lover. 

Meanwhile Congress is seeking answers and reports have emerged that top House Republicans knew of the investigation before Election Day--and kept quiet.

Finally, questions are being raised about whether Paula Broadwell, the Petraeus biographer involved in the affair, revealed classified details in a recent speech. And progressive critics are taking on the corporate media’s previous valorization of the famous general.

That’s just some of the new information that has come out over the weekend related to the widening scandal.

Jill Kelley, a State Department liaison to the military, has been identified as the woman who alerted law enforcement to allegedly threatening emails sent by Paula Broadwell, the Petraeus biographer alleged to have conducted an affair with the general. Broadwell reportedly sent harassing emails to Kelley, who in turn reported the emails to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Kelley and her family were close to Petraeus and his family.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation caught wind of the affair over the summer, according to the New York Times. “But law enforcement officials did not notify anyone outside the F.B.I. or the Justice Department until last week because the investigation was incomplete and initial concerns about possible security breaches, which would demand more immediate action, did not appear to be justified,” the Times reports. The fear fueling the investigation was that the Petraeus affair may have compromised national security, though officials determined no secrets had been leaked.

Congressional officials are now raising questions as to why most of them only found out about the affair six hours before the news broke. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), head of the intelligence committee, said that the news of the affair struck “like a lightning bolt.” The Associated Press reports that “Feinstein says she's now been briefed by the FBI but wants to know why the bureau didn't notify her sooner because of the national security implications.”

But reports have come out that Eric Cantor, a top House Republican, “knew in October about former CIA Director David Petraeus' involvement in an extramarital affair,” according to CNN. “Doug Heye [a spokesman] said Cantor, a Republican, was tipped to the information by an FBI employee. The congressman had a conversation with the official, described as a whistle-blower, about the affair and national security concerns involved in the matter, he said.” The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky notes that “Cantor evidently came to know about the affair on Halloween. And yet, he obviously did not leak it before the election (we don't know that he didn't try or think about it, but we obviously know that nothing appeared).”

Another interesting report that emerged yesterday was speculation that Broadwell, the biographer of Petraeus who allegedly had the affair with him, publicly shared classified information during an October 26 speech at the University of Denver. “The woman at the center of the alleged adultery scandal that led CIA Director David Petraeus to resign on Friday gave a speech last month asserting otherwise unreported information about the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans,” The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports. The CIA “denied her claim that prisoners were held at the annex, which has not been reported elsewhere,” Lake reported.

So now that the downfall of Petraeus is complete, the knives have come out in the press. Reporters who once might have valorized Petraeus--the ultimate example being Broadwell’s own hagiography--are now listening to anonymous officials spread details about the personal life of Petraeus. The big problem with this, though, is that reporters never scrutinized Petraeus before this affair.

BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings, best-known for his Rolling Stone expose of General Stanley McChrystal, published a scathing essay on Petraeus and the corporate media yesterday. Hastings shows how the corporate media built up the myth of Petraeus, a myth far removed from the reality of how Petraeus’ policies were being executed. Fawning profiles in media ranging from the New York Times to the New Yorker to Newsweek were published that showed “an unrealistic and superhuman myth around the general that in the end did not do Petraeus or the public any favors. Ironically, despite all the media fellating, our esteemed and sex-obsessed press somehow missed the actual blow job.”

Hastings goes on to offer a counter-narrative to the myth of Petraeus’ golden touch in war. Hastings writes:

The warning signs about Petreaus’ core dishonesty have been around for years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or, that in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

Other failures of Petraeus include his handling of Iraqi security forces, riddled with corruption and the presence of “death squads,” as Hastings puts it. But real scrutiny of Petraeus never came. “How did Petraeus get away with all this for so long? Well, his first affair — and one that matters so much more than the fact that he was sleeping with a female or two — was with the media,” writes Hastings. “Petraeus’ first biographer, former U.S. News and World Report reporter Linda Robinson, wrote a book about him, then went to CENTCOM to work for him. Yes — a so-called journalist published a book about him, then started getting a paycheck from him soon after. This went largely unremarked upon.”


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