11:15 am Nov. 15, 2012
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 GOODS—OR, SOME OF THEM—FINALLY ARRIVE: At last, the needle has moved, however slightly, on the Petraeus scandal. A few things previously speculated upon are now confirmed.
I noted yesterday my suspicion that the tabloids' decision to politicize the Petraeus scandal was only a result of the desire to keep the story going with no news. Today, straight scandal reportage, not wider political context or subjective "takes" on the affair dominate the tabloid fronts.
For the New York Post, that means fronting the fact that the F.B.I. has indeed found classified documents on Paula Broadwell's computer. Now there is an important proviso here if we are being technical. Previous reports have already established that while Broadwell may well, in her research, have accessed classified documents, that doesn't mean they were passed to her by Petraeus. It's underlined by the reports today that the F.B.I. also found physical documents in her home that she has admitted she illegally removed from secure government buildings, presumably using the high-security clearance she was known to bandy about in public talks. It's a minor point, in fact, and not one that is likely to figure in any official response to outrage over the C.I.A. chief's mistress' possession of classified material, that she may well not have gotten them as a result of her affair.
Not scrupling any more than absolutely necessary to observe this fact, the Post headline reads "LOVE BYTES." A large silhouetted image of Broadwell, against a black backdrop, is at a three-quarters angle, the best for presenting both her cleavage and bustling in the same shot, something not possible with either a frontal or a straight profile shot. She's clearly dressed for a formal occasion in a satin bejeweled floral print dress with a plunging neckline and dangling earrings and a sparkly necklace. "Classified secrets on Paula's computer" reads the dek, next to a now-familiar picture of the F.B.I. removing what looks like a giant iMac from her house.
For the News, the emphasis is on the arguably less substantively interesting character Jill Kelley. They've negotiated exclusive use of a photo of Kelley and Petraeus at an awards function that took place at Kelley's home, in which he is offering her a cheek-kiss as he accepts one of those glassy bricks that pass for trophies nowadays. Her face is scrunched up, her eyes sealed shut in what gives the kiss both the chaste look of cousins at a reunion and, somehow, still projects a notion of Kelley's intense admiration for the four-star general.
Here is the important thing: It's a kiss, between Kelley and Petraeus.
Here are the unimportant things: At the event, Petraeus' wife Holly was present, presumably applauding along with the rest of the crowd as the shot is taken.
There are shades here of the famous picture of Monica Lewinsky in the front row of a crowd of admirers looking up adoringly at Bill Clinton. That was not evidence of an affair, but the sort of photographic moment that, in retrospect and knowing that Clinton did in fact have sexual relations with that woman, filled in a lot of emotional information for a lot of readers. This, probably, doesn't. But, again: Petraeus is kissing Kelley.
The photo itself might not have flown if it weren't pegged to a development in the case. In this case, it's that Kelley has lost her "wave" pass to the MacDill Air Force base—that is the ability of certain civilians to wave themselves through checkpoints because they're well known on the campus and business takes them there often. To gain access now she'll have to sign in and show an ID like us regular civilians. It's a result of the questions that have been raised about MacDill's relationship with the outside world of Tampa, and for obvious reasons.
Another elision: It was not this kiss the News has a photo of that prompted the decision, at all. And yet: "KISS OF DEATH: Whistleblower banned from military base."
ONLY THE GOOD CY YOUNG: The News couldn't quite get away with a full page of Petraeus, of course, only because R.A. Dickey, who has actually been writing a column for the paper, amazed everyone by winning the Cy Young award despite the fact that he's pushing 40 and a knuckleball pitcher and was routinely described until relatively recently as a "journeyman".
He covers himself in this week's installment, though you'll find more interesting assessments of the award elsewhere, especially Tyler Kepner's piece on the front page of The New York Times. And as long as they were breaking up the Petraeus news, why not give the celebrity gadflies a little something? I actually do find myself on the verge of a tongue-cluck in the wake of news that Jon Bon Jovi's daughter, a student at the elite upstate liberal-arts school Hamilton College, apparently was hospitalized after a heroin overdose. It's not so much that I believe it isn't news; it clearly is. But elsewhere I have seen treatments of the story in which some kind of joke is attempted based on Bon Jovi lyrics. Here, the News takes the high road, relatively speaking, restricting themselves to the factual if blunt "JON'S KID IN HEROIN SHOCK," over a silhouetted photo of the rock star in an embrace with his daughter.
OBSERVATIONS: So we have cause to congratulate the tabloids on their return to straight news and gossip rather than tenuous think-packages arguing that the Petraeus scandal is a stain on our international reputation or computing the number of hours (I think less than one, probably) that Petraeus may have spent writing a letter in support of Jill Kelley's sister's custody claim that he ought to have spent getting to the bottom of the Benghazi mission attack.
But who came back stronger? I have to say, that while it seems nobody, in the foreground or the background of this story, believes there was an affair between Kelley and Petraeus, there can be few better pictures to have today than this kiss.
It may not have legs, because there's likely no affair, but it's pretty great to have today, and there was no other choice for the News once they'd negotiated it. It did push the News into an less substantive topspin though. In terms of the short- and medium-term fallout of this scandal, remember that yesterday the president, somewhat taciturn on the whole affair, did make a point of saying that he as yet was not aware of any sensitive information being improperly accessed in the scandal.
Well: Broadwell improperly access information, and was having an affair with the head of the C.I.A. The two may or may not be connected, but what concerns the president about this scandal is a good indicator of what should concern the rest of us, because, after all, it's the reputation of the entire military intelligence community that is at stake in the affair.
Also: "LOVE BYTES."
WINNER: New York Post.