Op-Ed of the Day: Sexism in the Petraeus scandal coverage

Frank Bruni, in The New York Times, says that the coverage of the complicated Petraeus scandal is “reverting to clichés that should be retired and indulging in a sexism we like to think we’ve moved past” and that the affair is boiled down to a good man who fell into a siren’s trap.

It’s the women in these situations who are often subjected to a more vigorous public shaming — and assigned greater responsibility.

The Web site Business Insider posted an interview with an unnamed former colleague of Petraeus’s who knew Broadwell and characterized her as “a shameless self-promoting prom queen.” The colleague all but exonerated Petraeus by saying: “You’re a 60-year-old man and an attractive woman almost half your age makes herself available to you — that would be a test for anyone.”

The headline of The Washington Post story that weighed in on Broadwell’s wardrobe asserted that he “let his guard down,” a phrase that portrays him as passive, possibly even a victim. The story notes that his former aides considered him “the consummate gentleman and family man.”

petraues.jpg(CIA Director David Petraeus, testifies before the US Senate Intelligence Committee during a full committee hearing on ‘World Wide Threats.’ on January 31, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER )

Jill Kelley had better prepare herself for a lot of press attention. She lawyered-up yesterday.

We’ll talk to Hanna Rosin at 9:50 about how we look at women and sex scandals.

-Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Katie

    Yes, the double standard is still alive and well in America, HOWEVER…once you play the “crazy” card (emailing another woman to back-off your man) all credibility is lost.

  • Annie Perkins

    I think that Kerri is too biased in this conversation. Let the experts talk about what will happen. How can you possibly KNOW what’s going to happen here? All you’re doing is speculating. Give people the benefit of the doubt – Petraeus has lost his reputation, so has Broadwell. They’re both at fault in this, and I don’t think you can comment so definitively on what will happen in the long term.

  • Jenny

    I’ll always think of Michael Brodkorb as the man who slept with Amy Koch!

  • Molly

    The media & language choice play a huge role in this. Both the MPR & NYT homepages refer to Paula Broadwell as Petraus’ “mistress.” Seriously?!

  • Chris

    I’m sorry, I think this is an apples to oranges comparison.

    Both Petraeus and Broadwell had an affair, yes. Petraeus as the head of the CIA. Broadwell as a biographer. Of course the biographer having an affair with the person she was writing a biography on will have more negative career impacts down the road, because the affair inherently ruins her credibility as a biographer. The affair, while damaging to Petraeus, does not inherently ruin his credibility as a military officer or intelligence person.

    Since speculation was a big part of this discussion, I would speculate that if the head of the CIA were a woman and her biographer were a man, the effects would be the same: the biographer’s career would be in ruins and the head of the CIA would resign in ignominy but eventually move on because they’re still good at what they do and have not inherently damaged their credibility at doing their job effectively.

    I also have to say that it appeared Kerri and her guest were fairly biased in this conversation. I was disappointed in that.

  • brian

    I wish our Generals would exercise a little more control over their “Privates”.

  • Marcus

    For every comment like that made by the troglodyte in the Business Insider, there are probably 10 like those made by Bruni and by the people who called in to this program, people who believe that sexual parity will only be achieved when the male participant in an affair is thrown in a dungeon for life and the female participant is awarded a purple heart.

    I love MPR, but its approach to gender in stories like this has become such a cliche. The story is written well before the facts have been gathered: “Man Wrongs Woman”.

  • suestuben

    As usual, the woman has done the man (and the country, and probably the universe) wrong. She could be 8-years-old and the powers-that-be (men) would find a way to make it her fault. Don’t we all think that a man “twice her age” should have the discipline and experience to control the situation? and if he doesn’t then why is he in a position of power?? So, we must conclude, it IS his fault.

    And if you still have trouble with that and are searching your tiny brain to find an excuse for the head of the CIA, probably one of a handful of excessively powerful jobs in the world, then stop and ask yourself why a mere babe of a woman can ‘work her wiles’ upon so impressive a man… If it is so easy for women to do this to men, then men are not the ones to be trusted with powerful positions. Maybe no secrets were given up this time, but what about next time, will locations of a Seal team leak out, or the code to a nuke be revealed? If women are so easily powerful and men so easily weak, then why do we insist upon trusting them with anything of importance? Either men are responsible for their actions or they must be removed from sensitive situations. I’m for the latter as they prove constantly that they are weak, wobbly and not to be trusted. As my sister-in-law used to say, “they’ll walk whatever direction it points.”

  • Kevin

    I have to say I’m disappointed with the media coverage on this topic, not because of some particular nuance or angle of the story being told, but because we are talking about yet another “Sex Scandal.”

    Is this supposed to be news? People have affairs all the time. Do I need to know about it? Not really. I couldn’t care less whom any prominent figure is sleeping with. This does not matter to me! I am not sore bored that I need to think about other people’s sex lives.

    Now, this has been turned into a “national security issue.” Are we serious? Just because Gen. Petraeus got laid, we are to think that he’s showering his lovers with CIA secrets? Come on. Maybe we should investigate his wife. Who knows what might have slipped out in the sack over the years.

    Frankly, I don’t need any more answers. The first question to the President at this first post-election press conference ought to not be about a faux scandal. Let’s get on with business. For those who want drama, there’s “reality TV.”