10:21 am Nov. 12, 20122
Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?
THE BORINGEST C.I.A. SEX SCANDAL EVER: Is that all there is to a C.I.A. sex scandal?
David Petraeus' announcement Friday that he was stepping down as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency because he had had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, was strange almost precisely because it seemed to be so blunt. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg was so unscandalized by the announcement that he was moved to tweet, "Is 'I'm having an extramarital affair' the new 'I want to spend more time with my family?'"
Since the announcement I've been waiting for the thrills: the backstory about compromised intelligence, the plot against Petraeus, or at the very least a look into just what this affair consisted of (vague references to adult situations transpiring "under a desk" are couched in too much official language to do the trick, for me). Broadwell's father promises readers today that we're not yet "all in": "There’s a lot more here than meets the eye," he says. But so far it looks to me like there is less, not more.
The big news today is that we now know who it was who told the Federal Bureau of Intelligence that she was getting threatening emails from Broadwell in connection with Petraeus. We don't even have the wording for these emails, which seem to have been written out of jealousy and based on the supposition that Petraeus, who ended his affair with Broadwell over the summer, had moved on to someone new. It's news in part because that someone, the F.B.I. tipoff lady, also happens to be a bit of a Tampa socialite and to be very pretty, and prone to wearing sexy outfits and publishing pictures of her family on Facebook. Which means that the tabloids can attempt to make a character out of her in this singularly undramatic drama.
In a couple days, by the way, do a search for "Jill Kelley" and "raven-haired."
The Post goes with "THE OTHER OTHER WOMAN," and a giant picture of the raven-haired beauty, thus trafficking in the notion, quickly dismissed in the actual article, that Petraeus had an affair with Kelley. You can almost hear the story snapping under the pressure to live up to itself.
The News instead tries to make her a different kind of heroine; not the new lover, but the speaker of truth to power, somehow. "Whistle blowing beauty" reads the big white type over a different picture of the raven-haired beauty. Whom did she blow the whistle on? A biographer.
The strain on the News piece is perhaps more evident when you get inside the paper. Paragraph after paragraph of mundane personal information about Kelley, including the fact that her father immigrated from Lebanon where he was an organist and opened a middle easter restaurant in Philadelphia with his wife, and that Jill Kelley has a twin sister, and that Broadwell's husband's grandmother was shocked at the news.
There are moments the tabloids are waiting for in certain narratives. For instance, when a madam gets busted, the moment is the black book: names of clients. In the case of Anna Gristina, the upper east side madam, it never materialized, and subsequently tabloid interest in the affair died down. I wonder how long the Petraeus story can survive tabloid interest if the actual sexy text of the correspondence between Petraeus and Broadwell never sees the light of day.
OBSERVATIONS: So what do we do with this story that began with its ending—Petraeus' admission of his affair—and now, lacking any new revelations, seems to have nowhere to go? Which way of sexing up the C.I.A. sex scandal works better—the brunette who brought down the C.I.A. general by setting of an F.B.I. investigation, or the brunette who did not have an affair with Petraeus?
Neither is very good, but at least "THE OTHER OTHER WOMAN" holds out the hope of something with a sexual theme. Opening either paper is a disappointment of course, but the appointment I'd keep is with the Post. I just wouldn't feel good about it afterward.
WINNER: New York Post.