The Petraeus Affair Becomes an Episode of Scandal

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 14 2012 3:04 PM

The Petraeus Affair Becomes an Episode of Scandal

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal

Photo byDanny Feld– ©2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

In a curious case of life-imitating-art-imitating-life, Jill Kelley, the woman who revealed the affair between General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, has sought legal counsel with renowned crisis manager Judy Smith. Smith, whose resumé includes work with Clarence Thomas, Monica Lewinsky, and Michael Vick, has become an expert in damage control in the political and entertainment spheres. She is also the inspiration behind—and co-executive producer of—network television’s first dramatic show featuring a leading black female actress since 1974, Scandal

On the Shonda Rhimes-helmed soap opera, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) plays Ms. Fix-It for the seedy underbelly of Washington, D.C. Her job is generally to prevent potentially disastrous situations from becoming public knowledge. With the aid of her tiny, elite team of helpers, Olivia knows everyone and mysteriously understands how to “make things go away.” Plotlines frequently involve the extramarital affairs of elected officials—on last week’s episode, Olivia was able to spin a politician’s murder of his wife’s lover to the public, ultimately amping up his approval ratings. (Spoiler alert: Olivia's solution includes false allegations of rape against the dead man.*) In true melodramatic fashion, she does all of this while wrestling with her emotional attachment to the president of the United States, who’s married.


Save for that last wrinkle, the Petraeus saga is playing out pretty much like a typical episode, with its ever-increasing cast of characters, and a new twist around every leaked e-mail or re-examined interview. One of the show’s trademark features is Olivia’s quick wit—she always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else, even when she’s not—and her fast-talking exchanges with her clients. Will Smith counsel Kelley in this same no-nonsense, get-shit-done manner? It’s certainly fun to imagine—and perhaps Rhimes will be able to find inspiration for a future thinly-veiled episode of this real-life circus.

Considering Kelley’s lavish lifestyle and current financial woes—she’s involved in at minimum nine lawsuits—she’d better hope that Smith gives her advice, whatever it may be, quickly. She may not be able to afford the damage control for much longer.

Clarification: Olivia does not levy the false charges herself; she allows the public to believe the politician's false allegations against the dead man, even after she learns they are untrue.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.


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