The Petraeus Scandal Barely Merits the Word "Scandal"

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 13 2012 11:27 AM

Sad Man Does Something Stupid

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David Petraeus, man of the moment

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

In light of the hourly rollout of new revelations and accusations clustered around CIA Director David Petraeus, I have a simple plea to the denizens of Washington D.C.: Have sexier sex scandals. If all of my trusted news outlets are going to spend days screaming acronyms like "CIA" and "FBI" mixed with the words "sex" and "scandal" at me, I'm going to expect some James Bond-level intrigue. Think: Seductive international spies creating a web of informants, one orgasm at a time. Instead, so far all I've gotten is a pathetic, aging man who is easily swayed by cheap flattery, a grown woman acting like a high school mean girl who leaves snotty Facebook messages for a perceived rival, and now a professional member of law enforcement sending shirtless pics to a woman for no other apparent reason than he's decided there's a possibility she does it. It's all very not Sean Connery, and strikes me as an embarrassing display of what happens when sexually repressed people try to let loose a little.

Like a lot of other liberal writers, I'm more than a little unnerved by the way that state power is being brought down on the individuals in question for behaviors that are really none of our business, and in some cases, as with the investigation of Gen. John R. Allen and Jill Kelley, seemingly the result of nothing more than a prudish hostility to men and women having friendships outside of their marriages. (Yes, I realize there could be more to it, but I'm going on what we know now.) It's hard to feel sorry for Petraeus in light of his obvious lack of judgment, of course, but it's also appalling to see the government and the news media running with this story as if it's actually titillating, instead of just kind of sad. This isn't Kate Moss sleeping with Jude Law to calm down his griping about how much she's getting it on with Sadie Frost, people. This isn't even a tragedy. This is a farce, and one with actors so pathetic that even Todd Solondz might not be interested in the movie rights.

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If the lesson in all this were, "Most adulterers are kind of sad," it would be easier to deal with the wall-to-wall coverage, but instead I get the distinct impression that many journalists working this beat actually think what happened—a lot of emails—is tawdry enough to earn the name "scandal." Take this Reuters headline: "Three women intertwine in downfall of David Petraeus." If only it were that interesting a story. I prefer my headline, because while it won't attract all the readers looking for some good soul-sucking jezebels, it does have the benefit of accuracy.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.