The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 17, 2012

The Petraeus affair plays like a reality TV show, and we’re all hooked

— It’s “Homeland” meets “The Real Housewives” — and it’s hands down the best serialized show on TV.


It’s “Dallas” in military drag, in which a ridiculously retro social order (who knew that “socialites” and “hostesses” even existed anymore, never mind in Tampa, Fla.) slams into the high-tech world of cyber-stalking — only to reveal a story as old as the written word: The Case of the Compromising Love Letter.


Honestly, when will cheating couples finally learn to keep their declarations of passion out of anything that could conceivably be stolen by a lady’s maid, discovered by a suspicious spouse or unearthed by a cyber sleuth? Never, one hopes, or much of the world’s great literature, not to mention detective fiction, would collapse.


Stripped to its essentials, the Petraeus affair is a familiar enough narrative: Married man in power falls for a wide-eyed, admiring acolyte to the detriment of career, family and reputation. Happens all the time, or at least every six months or so — Clinton, Edwards, Sanford, Schwarzenegger, just to name a few. But it’s the brushwork that makes the masterpiece, and the details of the Petraeus scandal transfix the eye each and every time a new one is revealed.


First there’s the man himself, square-jawed, yes, but not terribly handsome, with those protruding ears and that receding hairline, still radiating competence nonetheless and more than that, a Middle American super-dad decency that almost belies his four-star status. Then there’s Paula Broadwell, the Harvard-educated biographer whose book was so unapologetically gushing that Jon Stewart, interviewing her before the scandal broke, asked her if David H. Petraeus was “awesome or incredibly awesome.”


And, oh, the shivery meta-media pleasure of watching Stewart now review those softball questions knowing what we know/he knows now, or finding the whole original extended-version episode in which Broadwell banters with her cuckolded husband as they do his-and-hers sets of push-ups for charity.

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