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Media and Crisis Management

Petraeus Scandal – What now for those involved?

Posted on: November 27th, 2012

Let’s play the options game while the David Petraeus affair simmers. Time, no new information, and the Hamas/Israel fight took the former CIA director’s embarrassment off the front page. But this baby’s waiting to boil when the other shoes drop on what really happened. The principals in the “scandal” have lawyered up. Some have PR help.

Options are especially important until the facts and legal exposures, if any, are known for Petraeus, former mistress Paula Broadwell, email whistle-blower Jill Kelley and Kelley email buddy Gen. John Allen. No one’s charged with a crime and it’s uncertain anyone will be but there’s been enough gossip to keep these folks miserable and the media watching.

A recap. Anonymous email threats warned Tampa socialite Kelley and military family booster to stay away from Petraeus, a social friend of Kelley’s. She told an FBI friend. The FBI identified Petraeus biographer Broadwell as the sender and tripped over a former affair between Broadwell and Petraeus, both married to others. The Bureau also found suggestive emails between Kelley and Afghan war chief Allen.

The first option for all isn’t really an option and all are now following it: lie low. Kelley learned the hard way by sitting in a window and walking to her car. Video ran repeatedly in newscasts and a Saturday Night Live skit. There’s got to be a paparazzi bounty for a fresh clip of Broadwell or Petraeus. We haven’t seen any of these folks lately, have we? It works.

Jill Kelley’s options are easiest. She most appears a victim. In fact, a client’s actions against her – which she disputes – seem to grow straight from the fallout of this ruckus. Until the actual wording of the Allen-Kelley emails is known she should not talk about them or Allen for now. Let the emails – said to be mild – speak for themselves. Eventually she can go the 60 Minutes route if indeed she’s got nothing to hide.

As for General Allen, if his emails with Kelley are merely unwise wording then public embarrassment may be all he suffers. However! This flap generated heat at the very time the Pentagon is prosecuting other flag-rank officers over serious sexual allegations and is reviewing military ethics. Zero tolerance may nix Allen’s pending promotion to Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He isn’t and shouldn’t be talking.

Petraeus quit quickly, faces no charges, and time is a friend. His family’s muddied and stellar military record blemished (his CIA leadership has been questioned by some) and the former general’s penalty will be time in the doghouse – for now. Does anyone seriously believe this highly regarded 60-year old strategist will disappear? If Bill Clinton and (former NY governor) Eliot Spitzer can return to the stage, so can Petraeus: when and how will become apparent.

Paula Broadwell is the wild card. Legal counsel transcends PR since it’s uncertain whether she broke laws (most think not). Words matter and she must avoid the wrong ones. Should her legal ducks fall into line the tricky part will be how to emerge to regain respect. How about a mea culpa? Take it on yourself, accept responsibility, burn no bridges, violate no confidences, rehearse comments and talk to a respected reporter. If Broadwell can’t do that then she should foreswear the public persona she was creating for the foreseeable future.

Lastly, it’s a darned shame to see such people brought low by common human failings.


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