For those who are understandably foggy on what has transpired, a quick synopsis: Paula Broadwell and Petraeus grew close as she wrote his biography, but their affair did not begin until November 2011. All the while, Tampa socialite and long-lost Kardashian cousin Jill Kelley started moving in FBI and military circles and befriended senior FBI agent Frederick Humphries and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen. Broadwell, for whatever reason, felt threatened by Kelley, and anonymously emailed top generals warning them to stay away from Kelley. This all culminated in Broadwell, again anonymously, sending threatening emails directly to Kelley. Kelley forwarded those messages to Humphries, who started the investigation that brought down the director of the CIA.
Got all that? It’s a story about silly women and the generals who fell for them but not one of how this country’s security was compromised. Why did the FBI relentlessly pursue a man’s personal details after it was clear there was no grave safety breach? Why did a senior FBI agent open an investigation into a civilian harassment case in the first place? These are the questions that should be at hand, not Petraeus’ deep moral failing. He has acknowledged his transgressions, and that should be the end of anyone’s interest. This is not meant as an endorsement of adultery or an attempt to cut people off from the guilty pleasures of lurid affairs. All I ask is that we maintain different standards for David and Holly Petraeus than we do for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
Though in respecting their privacy we might deprive the masses of shallow satisfaction, exploiting leaders’ personal shortcomings has serious consequences. Had Bill Clinton not been publicly chased into perjury, perhaps he could have worked to make the economic boom of the ’90s even greater. More importantly, would FDR have been forced from office if his dalliances with Lucy Mercer had been exposed? Between the economic recovery and World War II victory he oversaw, the American Century might have looked very different if the Petraeus model had been applied in his case. Today’s threats might not be as grave as those conquered by the greatest generation, but they are of a different nature, and therefore we cannot be sure. Holding those who protect us to perfection in arenas independent of their professional obligations inevitably compromises their effectiveness.
As the Facebook generation, we will be the first wave of professionals to enter the workforce — and, in some cases, the public eye — with a trove of photos to document some of our most unbecoming moments. Though I never broadcasted anything particularly offensive on the Internet, the idea of strangers 20 years from now combing through my fleeting teenage thoughts on Twitter makes me shudder. Now, few will end up directing the CIA, and those who do should no doubt be shown to exercise good judgment. But Petraeus was forced from office for a personal matter that was in all likelihood uncovered from an inappropriate investigation.
The respect for privacy that used to come with high public office was reserved to protect a select few from being suffocated and constricted in fulfilling their duties by unrealistic expectations. People may never be able to handle the fact that many of those whom we venerate, while extraordinary, are also severely flawed. But it is in everyone’s interest to accommodate that reality and not exploit it. If reporters insist on exposing drama, so be it, but our culture cannot be one that demands the demise of those who thrive professionally but fall short morally. Exposure of personal details will only become more common as technology advances. So with the publishing of every prurient detail, do not assume a sudden epidemic of sin. Just endure, roll your eyes if you must, and let our leaders get back to work.
David Will is a sociology major from Chevy Chase, Md. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/11/21/31902/