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

Brow Beat
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

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.