Not ‘just a catfight’: Paula Broadwell’s threat to Jill Kelley, laid out by a friend

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Today's tabloids, Nov. 20, 2012. ()
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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 GET: Is this the moment we've been waiting for? Has one of our newspapers gotten a quote from the actual emails from David Petraeus lover-biographer Paula Broadwell to Petraeus' Tampa friend Jill Kelley?

Not quite, but almost.

It's not that the Daily News has obtained copies of the emails. (If they had, you would know it because they'd be the most famous and important news organization on the internet by now.) But they did speak to an unidentified friend of Kelley, who said that the woman, an unpaid social liaison to the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, called her to seek her advice after receiving a series of emails from an anonymous account later traced to Broadwell.

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"This wasn’t just a catfight," the friend told the Daily News. "Any normal person who got emails like that would have immediately called the police."

We only have one partial quote from one of the emails, in which Broadwell apparently told Kelley she could "make you go away."

But that's enough to send us off to the races.

The headline, covering much of the front page, reads "I CAN MAKE YOU GO AWAY." (There aren't quotation marks around it, since only really part of it is confirmed through the News' source to be actual text from the emails.) The dek reads: "Mistress' menacing emails to 'rival' Kelley."

"Rival" is in quotation marks because Kelley and most people interviewed by the media who know her have said over and over again that Kelley was never involved romantically with Petraeus. Broadwell's emails seem to indicate she suspected a relationship and was jealous, though.

Broadwell was captured by photographers on film yesterday as she made her way to her car from her house in Charlotte, N.C., in fancy-looking sunglasses and a beige turtleneck. One of the pictures of Kelley, taken I think at a lawn party she held for one of her daughters shortly after the whole scandal started to unfold Nov. 9, is chosen for the front probably because she looks a little like she is in fear, her lips stretched wide in a grimace revealing two rows of perfect if somewhat large choppers. Just as likely at this moment she was thinking, I hope the catering guy doesn't drop the giant cake on his way to the table. But it works.

The News further gets to glory in its quotation from one of the Broadwell emails because it was obtained from an exclusive interview, and fittingly, the words "EXCLUSIVE: PETRAEUS GAL'S THREAT" is smeared across the top of the page in knockout-white type over a red stripe.

I've said before that this was the moment we'd been waiting for. Just as when a madam is arrested, everything is busywork unless and until the papers can get hold of the black book, or whatever records the madam kept listing her clients, this story was always waiting for emails: emails between Petraeus and Broadwell professing love or lust or detailing how they organized their assignations; emails between Broadwell and Kelley threatening her imagined rival; and also of course the emails between Kelley and John Allen, top commander in Afghanistan and, like Petraeus, a friend from Tampa.

THE COPS, THE KILLER AND THE DUFFEL BAG MAN: Yesterday we praised the News for its old-school trick: using the imperative mood ("FIND THEM") to implicate readers directly in the unfolding investigation into the murderer who is targeting shop owners in Brooklyn. Today, the Post tries to hop on board, to less dramatic effect.

Yesterday, you may remember, police put out surveillance stills showing four people who were near the scene of the most recent incident at a Flatbush Avenue clothing store where proprietor Rahmatollah Vahidipour was murdered. Their colorful code names ("John Doe Duffel Bag," "Jane Doe Long Coat," "John Doe Bubble Jacket" and "Jane Doe Green Jacket") added to the police-procedural feel.

I am perhaps the only one who finds it funny that Jane Doe Green Jacket was actually a 24-year-old woman who had just swiped a bottle of perfume from a street vendor and ran, and that John Doe Bubble Jacket is the guy she stole it from. Maybe they can hook those two up and get the perfume back to Bubble Jacket.

That leaves Jane Doe Long Coat, who police said yesterday is not involved in the investigation anymore though it's not clear why since some reports indicate police still haven't found her, and Duffel Bag.

Duffel Bag, depending on which report you believe, is either definitely or possibly found on surveillance video of either the first or second crime being attributed to the same man who murdered Vahidipour. (The Post goes strongly for "definitely" and "first.") Which makes him more than just a potential witness: He's elevated to "person of interest."

Of course one problem is that a police sketch of a man who was seen scurrying from one of the scenes depicts a much younger black man with close-cropped hair wearing sunglasses; John Doe Duffel Bag is a balding white guy with a big bushy mustache.

Anyway, the Post tries to milk a laugh out of the thing with an if-you-must pun. "DUFFEL JEOPARDY" reads the headline.

These things are fun when both meanings of the pun have a connection to the story. Last Saturday's New York Post headline about the Petraeus affair, "CLOAK AND SHAG HER," for instance, is about as perfect as you can get when discussing the illicit affair of the C.I.A. chief. Slightly less good but still at least a double meaning in which both work was the News' more recent "IN THE LINE OF BOOTY."

But "double jeopardy" is no more than a term taken from criminal law; and, sure, this involves a police investigation, but that's pretty thin. "DUFFEL JEOPARDY" is fun to say, but it's effectively a single entendre.

It's also hard to make this look fresh, since the same photo of the same guy was on the front page of the News yesterday in a more compelling treatment.

The dek: "Bag man eyed in slay case." This is a better pun! The "bag man" is the guy designated to be left holding the bag; and this is John Doe Duffel Bag we're talking about. But it's a bit buried. And as for "eyed," I have some trouble with this: In criminal stories, "eyed" usually means "suspected." I suppose it's fair to stretch the cautious police term "person of interest" this far, but it is a stretch.

PARADE ROUT: But of course, today's paper isn't quite about newsstand sales so much as it is about ad revenue. More than half the page is taken up with pictures of the Papa Smurf and some other elf like dude in balloon form advertising a "COLOR GUIDE" to the "MACY'S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE." There's the usual full-page Black Friday sales ad from Macy's in the main news section, and a several-page-long pullout with two full pages of Macy's messaging in them and a series of articles (none of them quite hard-hitting but perfectly legitimate) boosting various elements of the parade this year. I have to imagine that a promise that the section would be prominently displayed on the front today was a part of the deal to sell those two deep-inside ad pages. If I'm right, then the Post was only ever going to get a pretty slim sliver of a front page to play with today.

OBSERVATIONS: Without minimizing today's Daily News get, I think it's important to note that this revelation packs a bit less of a punch coming so long after the initial report of the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell, and the email investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation instigated by Kelley that set the whole scandal in motion. Don't get me wrong: the Post is fuming; they're just fuming a little less than they would have been if the News beat them to this sometime last week.

Still, sometimes the war isn't all about the front page. Sometimes it's just a battle for revenue. If we see a Macy's sponsored pullout in the Daily News tomorrow we'll know it's advantage Post, since theirs, for whatever number of readers wants it, came out first. But for now the winner's pretty clear.

WINNER: Daily News.