Did Broadwell’s Husband Write to The New York Times About Her Affair With Petraeus?

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 9 2012 11:42 PM

Did Broadwell’s Husband Write to the Times About Her Affair with Petraeus?

138008333
Former CIA Director David Petraeus

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy, shared a link on Twitter about an hour ago, and prefaced it with a wonderfully understated description:  “Interesting letter,” he wrote. Those who clicked on the link found a July installment of “The Ethicist,” the longstanding New York Times Magazine column taken over a little while back by Chuck Klosterman. The second letter in this particular installment was titled “My Wife’s Lover,” and it begins with what, under the circumstances, are some pretty striking opening lines. 

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

My wife is having an affair with a government executive,” it begins. “His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.)” The letter writer goes on to explain that “exposing the affair will create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort,” and to ask whether it is OK for him to “suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project” he believes “must succeed,” or whether he is obligated to acknowledge it in some way and “finally force closure.”

Advertisement

Now, this is the part where I say that any apparent resemblance to a scandal that just broke today involving General David Petraeus, until very recently head of the CIA, and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, may be a complete coincidence. Some on Twitter have already reacted skeptically to the notion that it is anything more than that, including my Slate colleague Allison Benedikt, who commented, “What 'government executive' is not having an affair with some guy's wife?” To which Slate contributor Ruth Graham added, “would anyone really repeatedly refer to heading the CIA as a 'project'? Doesn't sound quite right.”

Graham and Benedikt may very well be correct. So I will simply note the striking juxtaposition of the letter from July with today’s news—and will also point to what, especially under the (perhaps entirely coincidental) circumstances, is a pretty remarkable answer from Klosterman. He told the letter writer that he should tell his wife he wanted to separate, “just as you would if she were sleeping with the mailman.” There was no reason, he said, to reveal the affair in a public way. Then, having offered solid advice, he went a little further:

The fact that you’re willing to accept your wife’s infidelity for some greater political good is beyond honorable. In fact, it’s so over-the-top honorable that I’m not sure I believe your motives are real. Part of me wonders why you’re even posing this question, particularly in a column that is printed in The New York Times.
....I halfway suspect you’re writing this letter because you want specific people to read this column and deduce who is involved and what’s really going on behind closed doors (without actually addressing the conflict in person). That’s not ethical, either.

That strikes me as an impressively insightful read of the letter writer’s motives—whoever he is. I have emailed Klosterman for comment, by the way, and will update this post if I hear back from him.

Update: Hugo Lindgren, editor of the New York Times Magazine, took to Twitter this afternoon to say that they had looked into the matter, and, “based on our factchecking,” the column is not about the Petraeus affair. Score one for Allison Benedikt. And, of course, the guessing games—who was it about, then?—have already begun.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.