A former Washington Post reporter is excusing the secret sex life and lies of David Petraeus, the retired general who resigned in disgrace as Obama’s CIA director. Petraeus and his mistress Paul Broadwell are currently under investigation for unauthorized disclosure and possession of classified information.
Thomas E. Ricks, a veteran correspondent who covered the U.S. military for The Washington Post from 2000 through 2008, was invited on CNN on Sunday to blast the media for its coverage of the scandal. This reporter, who is now also a blogger, thinks the cover-up of the affair that was engineered by Petraeus and Broadwell was perfectly proper and that it was nobody else’s business what they were doing together.
But Stephen M. Walt, who is a colleague of Ricks at the journal Foreign Policy, has countered by noting the obvious: “In the world of intelligence, extramarital dalliances are dangerous because they create the obvious potential for blackmail. If some foreign intel service found out that a mid-level intelligence analyst or operative was cheating, they might be able to extract sensitive information by threatening to disclose the indiscretion.”
This is why the media must get to the bottom of the scandal in terms of whether Petraeus was blackmailed or pressured by someone in the Obama Administration or a foreign intelligence service.
The Ricks appearance on CNN was notable for his failure to explain why Petraeus changed his testimony regarding terrorist involvement in the attack on 9/11 that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Before his affair became public, when he was under pressure from Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI, he had insisted that al-Qaeda was not involved. This was consistent with the Obama Administration line. After the scandal emerged and he was apparently free to speak the truth, he insisted that he knew it was al-Qaeda all along.
Ignoring all of this, Ricks was invited on Fox News on Monday, where he used the opportunity not to urge more reporting on the matter but to attack the channel as a “wing of the Republican Party” for trying to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi. Ricks called the murders of the four Americans, including the American Ambassador, a “small firefight” and complained that the killings of American security contractors in Iraq had not received adequate attention from the media.
Host Jon Scott was so taken aback that he abruptly ended the interview. He should have asked why on earth Ricks thinks an attack from an international terrorist organization amounts to a “small firefight.”
Ricks has made it plain that he believes the Obama Administration’s Benghazi cover-up is not a scandal, but that the media have gone too far in their coverage of the Petraeus scandal and should back off.
In fact, Ricks told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program that Petraeus should have remained on the job rather than quit under pressure. “These were consenting adults engaged in private acts,” he said. “The lack of decency, I think, is kind of appalling to me. I mean, also the consequences of what’s happened to these people.”
Ricks was saying that the lack of decency was not on the part of Petraeus or his lover Paula Broadwell, both of whom are married and have children, but in the FBI uncovering this relationship and then the media covering it as a news story with national security implications.
He explained that Petraeus “was in a relationship with a consenting adult who was not in his chain of command. He’s hardly, I think, probably the first CIA director to have had an affair.”
Despite his sensational suggestion, Ricks didn’t name any other CIA director with a scandalous personal life who had an affair.
Fortunately, members of the public are not buying the effort to whitewash Petraeus.
In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, John M. Dowd noted that Petraeus “violated his fidelity to his wife, breached his oath of office to his country, and was unfaithful to the West Point motto of ‘duty, honor, country.’ The general should have exited years ago when he lost control of himself and hubris took hold of him.”
Another letter writer, Ed Karkut, noted, “Why did the chief spy of the U.S., with all his schooling, training and exposure to the craft of spying, choose to use emails as a form of communication with his lover? Everyone knows that emails can be compromised. Yet Mr. Petraeus exposed his frailty as a human being, and this unfortunately led to his downfall.”
These letter writers displayed far more intelligence than Ricks, who told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program host Howard Kurtz, “It’s a matter that should have remained private, first of all. It’s not a criminal act. There’s no allegation that he’s committed a crime here, as far as I know. You know, it could always change, more information could come out.”
As we noted in a recent column, the Post, which is Ricks’s and Kurtz’s old paper, has already documented that classified information was found in Broadwell’s possession and there is evidence that Petraeus ordered that she be given access to it. Ricks seemed unfamiliar with the facts of the case and Kurtz did not bother to point this out.
Kurtz, now with The Daily Beast, asked Ricks if he is an admirer of Petraeus. “Yes, and I remain so,” he said.
Ricks went on, “…I’m glad I’m no longer in ‘The Washington Post’ because I would have been pressured to cover this. I would have had to cover this.”
But he has covered it in his new job, as a blogger for Foreign Policy magazine, where he has complained about the coverage. He also says that he fears that the military brass will come to a number of questionable conclusions from the scandal, including that “You can be mediocre as long as you keep your pants on.”
He never explains why a good general like Petraeus could not keep his pants on.
Perhaps Ricks is embarrassed that he gave such a glowing review of Broadwell’s book. He wrote, “It is written with an insider’s lively understanding of the workings of today’s Army.” Indeed, Broadwell was a true insider.
Ricks added that the book, All In, about how Petraeus functioned as a military commander, “feels at times like we are sitting at his side in Afghanistan, reading his e-mails over his shoulder.”
Those emails in fact are what led to the Petraeus’ resignation.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected].