Stray penises and politicos

13 Nov
November 13, 2012

I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency.  It was the case of a national sportscaster — I won’t name him, but, alas, most of those old enough will remember the name, which is regrettable — whose sex life had suddenly become the media chow.

This man had been involved in a consensual relationship with another adult and for reasons both ridiculous and obscure, the other adult thought it just and meaningful to reveal herself and her complaints, making explicit all of the unique and varied ways in which she and this man had expressed their sexuality.  And my, wasn’t he a weird one.  And wasn’t it funny.

When that story broke, I was standing in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun and I remember my growing distaste watching reporters and rewrite men as they were sucked, joking and snickering, into the breaking news.  And no one had any doubt that it was news.  The man was a national sportscaster, for the love of god.  A more public figure this nation cannot muster.

I was no Candide on a first promenade through Paris.  I’d held pen and notepad akimbo and reported hypocritically at points.  Not a year earlier, I think, I’d been guilty of dragging to the front of the metro section some sad sack who happened to serve on a mayor’s advisory committee — an unpaid position, mind you — and happened to get arrested in a car with a lit marijuana cigarette between his lips.  At the price of that misdemeanor, I’d messed that guy up good.  Wasn’t my fault he caught that charge; hey, I was just the cop shop reporter calling districts and reporting arrests.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

And then, like the shitbird that reporters often are obliged to be, I probably left work that night and smoked a joint with the night editor, after which, we went to Burke’s for onion rings.   Which we did just about every other night.

Hypocrisy will never go out of style in American journalism or American life.  But sitting there and watching the rewrite and sports desk mobilize to surround the sexual wanderings of a sportscaster, I remember making a decision:  Enough.  This is just sex.  This is nothing more than the odd, notable penis or the odd, notable vagina staggering off the marked path and rubbing against the wrong tree.  This is just people.

I told myself that I wasn’t in journalism to chase something so ordinary, so adolescent as other people’s sexuality, that I wouldn’t play this game, that there were better reasons to be a reporter, and there were better things for readers to consume.  I knew that one soldier opting out from such a lurid and exalted battlefield of the media wars meant nothing, but I did it anyway.  Fuck Gingrich’s divorces.  Fuck Lewinsky.  Fuck where Anthony Weiner found some happy online moments.  I’m not playing anymore.  I long ago ceased to even pretend to care.

The arguments about character?  That human sexuality isn’t the most compartmentalized element of our nature?  That if someone will lie about sex, they’ll lie about other things? Really?  No, sorry, fuck that tripe.  Character has become the self-righteous rallying cry of far greater hypocrisy than any cheating husband.  It’s the excuse that makes our prurient leer seem meaningful and reasoned.

Observe the process by which we remove some of the most essential American figures of the last century for having failed to corral their sexual organs in the marital bedroom:  Roosevelt, gone.  Eisenhower, gone.  Kennedy, gone.  Lyndon Johnson, gone.  Clinton, gone.  Martin Luther King, Jr., gone.  Edward Murrow, gone.   Follow the gamboling penis to an arid expanse of sociopolitical wasteland, where many of the greatest visionaries and actors can never tred, a desert in which only the Calvin Coolidges and Richard Nixons remain standing.   Anyone who looks at the history of mankind and argues that private sexual fidelity exists in direct proportion to political greatness or moral leadership is either a chump or a liar.

And now comes General Petraeus.

His penis, too, has roamed.  And now he is grist for the usual mill.  And there will be three themes that we must now endure ad nauseum from all of the men and women of our media elite who will gather around their laptops and type so furiously as to obliterate everything they actually know about human sexuality and achieve the necessary velocity for judgment and arrogance:

1)  Man, this guy was dumb.  Ha hah!

2)  Too dumb to be the Director of C.I.A.  Isn’t that a sensitive position?  Shouldn’t his penis only show itself in the most careful moments, so as to protect a great nation’s secrets?  Isn’t he therefore incompetent?  As well as:

2a)  Didn’t he know he was boning a crazy lady?  The head of the CIA should be smarter than to be boning crazy ladies, right?

And lastly, because there is always a place for dumbass partisanship:

3)  How does this affect the Democrats?  How does it affect the Republicans?  When can we put a -gate on the end of this scandal?

To wit, let us parse the work of one Roger Simon, my namesake alas, a veteran political writer currently slinging witticisms and paper-thin insight for Politico.com:

“Gen. David Petraeus is dumb, she’s dumber.”

That’s the headline.  Let’s venture southward into the prose and see what we find:

Ah, Mr. Simon says the general should not have resigned because he’s involved in a sex scandal.  No, “he should have resigned because if he were any more dimwitted, you would have had to water him.”

Ha, hah!  That’s great stuff.  Mr. Simon is saying that the head of the CIA is as dumb as plant.  Because you have to water them.  A tasty bon mot, and we’re off and running.  Mr. Simon then offers to leave aside “the sordid, yet fascinating details” of the general’s private life — after which a sordid, yet fascinating detail is quickly cited — and instead focus intently on all of ways in which General Petraeus and his paramour were indifferent to being discovered — their use of email, the girlfriend’s jealous anger and her foolish compulsion in expressing that anger in writing to a perceived rival, and finally, Petraus being unwilling to act sensibly when confronted by the FBI:  “When Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal, he lied through his teeth until they came up with the DNA.  Not Petraeus.  He folded immediately…and admitted everything.”

So, now that we’ve had our fun chronicling how poorly these two people have handled their personal affair, it is time for Mr. Simon to turn his level gaze on General Petraus as the public man.   Just what did Petraeus do so that we thought he had any merit in the first place?  And Roger Simon — a man who has covered politics all his life, who is charged by a news organization that wishes to be a serious prism by which Americans can evaluate the political world and its relationship to actual issues and policy — he has exactly this to say:

He was once on an airplane five years ago with John McCain.  And he interviewed McCain, who admired Petraeus, who thought him charismatic,  who then, in this interview, reduced the general to an anecdote: “One thing he did was have a bag of money, and he would go around and say, “OK, build this irrigation ditch, buy yourself a generator.”

This is more than enough for national political columnist Roger Simon to look down at the valley of the dumb and dumber from the high mesa of his sun-kissed  laptop and joke about being impressed, since he is from Chicago and knows the value of carrying around bags of money with which to dispense favors.  And then Mr. Simon offer his grave doubts — based on what John McCain told him about David Petraeus second-hand, in an offhand interview on a plane between Cedar Rapids and Davenport — that Petraeus, despite his education, his military experience, or any other qualification, was the man to save Iraq or Afghanistan.  As if such a man even exists.

And there it is: Not only is Petraeus dumb, he’s easily expendable.  Bring on the next hump and let’s see if he keeps it in his pants.

But here is the real world in proportion:

David Petraeus has had sex outside his marriage, as have many men and many women. Human sexuality and compulsion are not in any way related to intelligence.  It’s not that the dumb or powerful are more prone to fucking around, or that the intelligent and powerless do it to any greater degree.  It’s that men in general are hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate sex and furtive romance and, sometimes, to act on it.   The reasons they do so are crude, ordinary and inevitable.   Women are also hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate furtive romance and sex — and yes, I changed the order, I know — and the reasons they do so are only marginally less crude, ordinary and inevitable.

Professionally, David Petraeus understood a helluva lot more than John McCain conveyed to Roger Simon in two minutes of conversation.  For one thing, if Mr. Simon wanted to be honest, he might acknowledge that it was Petraeus who saw the morass that was Iraq even as it began, who famously turned to a journalist on the march into Baghdad with the 101st Airborne and declared openly:  I know how this begins, but explain to me how this ends?  That alone makes the man more astute and more valuable than an entire White House, most of the Pentagon, and much of the American press corps, which itself failed to raise much worry when war in Iraq was being debated, or rather, not seriously debated at all.  It certainly makes Petraeus smarter than most of America, which largely supported that disastrous intervention.

To characterize Petraeus now as having failed to save either Iraq or Afghanistan is facile and dishonest and, of course, necessary to Mr. Simon’s argument that the sexual misadventures of a human being can then reveal that perhaps this fellow wasn’t smart enough in the first place.  After all he got caught, didn’t he?  A smart fellow would have taken more care.  No emails.  Only whispers.  And affections only for cunning and discreet ladies.  No undue emotions, please.

Having had a sexual misadventure, this guy can’t be smart, and therefore, let’s make him completely clueless by dint of a solitary, second-hand conversation with one distracted politician.  No other context is required.

It would be one thing if this were a scandal that could have compromised the CIA or American intelligence, if this were some honey trap set by foreign entities.  When politically-connected columnist Joe Alsop was famously lured into a homosexual liaison by Russian intelligence, which then attempted to turn Alsop, he rightly marched into the CIA headquarters and revealed the ploy, rendering it moot.  And if there were indications that Petraeus was vulnerable to being so blackmailed, this mess might have actual import.  But no, upon being confronted with his paramour’s indiscreet emails, he confessed all, resigned, and returned to private life to attempt, no doubt, to salvage his marriage or at least deal with the personal implications of it all.

More incredibly, Mr. Simon argues the general’s stupidity in not lying to federal investigators. He is, at that moment, not merely callow and sneering, as much of the press is apt to be in such a circumstance, he is, himself, grandly idiotic.  The penalties for lying to an FBI agent are profound.  Just ask Henry Cisneros.  Or Martha Stewart for that matter.  Or Bill Clinton.  No doubt if the general did lie and was later charged with a false statement, or worse, lying to a grand jury, Mr. Simon and his like would rush to declare that it wasn’t the marital infidelity that we care about, but the perjury and dishonesty.  As if it isn’t entirely rational for any human being — caught and shamed for thinking with their genitals as ordinary mortals are often apt to do — to lie and avoid not only the public shaming, but the private harm to other loved ones inherent in that public disgrace.  Nice for the press to have it both ways:  Shame them when they tell the truth about their private indiscretions, or stand self-righteously and defend the public trust if they don’t. Christ.  It’s enough to make even a half-honest man vomit.

I’m neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus.  But I am most definitely a detractor of what journalism has become in this country, of what passes for the qualitative analysis of our society and its problems.  And I’ve paid enough attention to the human condition to no longer take seriously the notion that anyone who lets penis or vagina rub against the wrong person, who is indiscreet in doing so, and who then tells the truth about it when confronted by an FBI agent is unfit for either citizenship or public service.  I certainly know enough about the human condition to know that all kinds of people — smart and dumb, powerful and powerless — are capable of finding themselves in such a circumstance and shaking their heads at just how far they strayed, at just how indiscreet they were in their very ordinary, human hunger, and how they have hurt those closest to them. Sex, done right, is some powerful shit.  And when Americans begin to accept the human condition for what it is rather than an opportunity to jeer at the other fellow for getting caught, then we will be, if nothing else, a little bit more grown up.  I remember when Francois Mitterand’s wife and mistress walked beside each other in the French premier’s funeral procession and few in that country thought it remarkable.  The French have got their problems, but in some respects, they make our country, our political commentary, seem as mature and insightful as a fourteen-year-old unsticking the pages of his dad’s just-discovered skin mags.  It’s a peculiar American hypocrisy that only the worst kind of  journalistic hack would readily and willingly embrace as a meaningful metric.

We’ve caught some of the smartest and most commited public men and women with their pants at their ankles.  Time and again, we’ve had our fun.  We’ve roundly mocked them for the very weaknesses that are so utterly our own.  Reporters who have at points in their lives fucked themselves silly in hotel rooms across this great land of ours while pursuing the infidelities of more public men with righteous glee — these are not men and women who are much inclined to any real moment of self reflection, but then who among us really is?  This kind of hypocrisy requires a complicit silence and a ritual wiping of the memory before every byline.  Well, I’m 52 years old and I will admit that I have not lived this long without occasionally misplacing my penis.  For shame, yeah.  And so, being fully complicit in the human comedy, the last thing I’m going to mock is the mistakes that others make in the rush to bed, or why they do so.

But for those who love throwing stones, is it too much to ask that their aim be true? That they limit the target to Darwinian compulsion, to ordinary, and yes, at times, unthinking human desire.  That they not equip themselves to judge the totality of a public servant’s entire career and works solely with the details of whatever sexual misadventure we happen to discover.  Roosevelt was a smart guy.  So was Eisenhower.  Clinton might be the smartest president of my generation.  And David Petraeus saw and spoke to the folly of Iraq before the rest of America was cheering the fall of Saddam’s statue.  And he stayed long after that folly was evident to work at a remedy for and an extrication from that tragic intervention.

If we can judge stupidity by solitary lapses, then Roger Simon, by dint of this recent column could rightly be judged a moron.  And if we’re going to free associate stupidity with the public discovery of sexual misadventure, such vacuous shit as Mr. Simon just offered up virtually requires him to be caught unawares in a Nuevo Laredo whorehouse with a fistful of fifties.

What I just wrote is unfair of course.  I’m sure Mr. Simon has had better and meaningful moments commenting on our body politic, just as the general has had other, more meaningful moments as a public servant.  But given that Petraeus himself doesn’t seem to have done anything criminal, or failed in his public performance, one can surmise that his decision to depart as CIA director is predicated on what he will now endure from our stunted media culture.

Allen Dulles screwed his way through dozens of women as director of the CIA.  Dulles, by every fair historical assessment, was a Georgetown player and backroom bullshitter who led the agency into some of the worst intelligence failures in American history, then created an alternate myth of success for the agency.   Shame on the American press corps of those years for buying into the professional myth, of course, but hey, at least those then covering the intelligence community hadn’t reduced themselves to a copse of dour-faced, suit-and-tie-wearing Hedda Hoppers.  They didn’t give a shit who Dulles slept with. But David Petraeus can expect no such quarter, or — as Mr. Simon’s commentary suggests — even the smallest sense of proportion.

Of course he quit.

 

*    *    *

Earlier, instead of the reference to Anthony Weiner, this essay utilized Herman Cain as a similar example.  In fact, I am reminded that in the case of Mr. Cain, the allegation was one of sexual harassment in the workplace.  Obviously, there is a prevailing public interest in such cases — as well as those involving political leaders who advocate for specific standards of sexual morality and then violate those standards.   To keep it on point, the argument here is about sex between consenting adults who have not sought to argue against such practice in any public sphere.

 

238 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Dingo says:

    Tail-Gate

    Reply
  2. A concerned fan says:

    David, how disappointing. A very clever headline followed by such flawed logic and a mean-spirited diatribe that I hardly recognized you.

    As a long-time fan and admirer (I have nearly all your material in books or dvds and we met in New Orleans just before the Katrina disaster), I have come to appreciate your true genius as a thoughtful commentator and producer of stories that inform, inspire, and lift us just enough to see the both the trees and the forest in our urban jungles. You are the Charles Dickens for our times and I mean that as a complement.

    But, oh you must have been tired to produce such bullshit as this blog. Do you actually equate Churchill and O’Neill? Do you equate FDR and Kennedy? Come on man! When did a leader with a mistress equate to a womanizer with a fuck-counter. When does an alcoholic equate to a cold-hearted bastard raining drones on innocents. Even you knew better when you wrote about the Corner, and Homicide, and The Wire, and Generation Kill, and now Treme. We’re all flawed but some are more guilty, more evil than others. Those with more power and authority do have more responsibility.

    David Petraeus is no saint. Roger Simon is no charlatan. And David, you’re not a petty bully hiding behind his fiction because he can’t handle the investigative journalism anymore.

    As they used to say on Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there.” We wouldn’t want to lose you.

    Reply
    • Rewrite says:

      Amen

      Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Nope.

      The point is not be involved in a voyeuristic game of judging whose personal life offends me the most or whose behavior I can rationalize. Absent any criminality on anyone’s part, the point is to get out of the business of assessing and judging the personal lives of others

      Again, I don’t care about rectitude. I need competence and results.

      And brother, if this mess is what investigate journalism has become and what we use it for then god help the republic.

      Reply
      • Lee says:

        I may have missed something, but do you exclude the powerful and hypocritical?

        For example: the ever popular homophobic fundamentalist pastor who gets caught with his equipment lodged in a rent boy (or whatever it is you call them in the States).

        Powerful people who wish to impose standards on others should be held to account when they violate those standards.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          You missed something. We readily acknowledge that those who engage in sexual harassment are a separate category, as are those public officials who advocate for sexual moralism and standards of behavior that they themselves violate.

          We’re just talking about sex between consenting adults in this critique.

          Reply
  3. Steve says:

    Anyone ever read “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner? This guy is a saint compared to much of the prior Directors.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Funny of you to mention.

      HBO has optioned it and I’m trying to develop with Ed Burns and Dan Fesperman. Too soon to tell if it gets a green light.

      Reply
  4. Malky says:

    Hey, thanks for going through these comments and taking them seriously. Clearly it’s not very enjoyable, but I’m always impressed when public figures (especially ones I respect as much as yourself) take the time to participate in a dialogue with their readers.

    Reply
  5. John F. says:

    Anybody who classifies Simon’s assessment of the media’s obsession with scandal as either “obvious” or “redundant” is nearsighted to the point that the tip of their nose must seem blurry. The infiltration of a TMZ mentality on journalism is the single most detrimental factor in our society today. Without enough news to facilitate a 24-hour news cycle, networks have turned to a relentless pursuit of anger inducing topics, creating a hostile viewership of torch bearers that’ve been antagonized to the point that public discourse has been profoundly altered – whether that was the intention or not. Yes, this is not a new subject to those of us who are aware or can see between the lines, but it is most definitely falling on deaf ears en masse and I commend Simon for consistently doing his part to speak out about this gross injustice.

    My one gripe about this essay in particular is that in trying to make a statement about the media’s malpractice, he’s drifted a touch too far and ended up on the verge of showing sexual deviation as irrelevant, or at the very least, indemnifying it in a round about way. I agree that sexuality is extremely powerful and that it dominates the male psyche in a way that is vastly understated more often than not – but infidelity is weakness and there is no honor in giving into those impulses. As a married man, I view cheating as selfish and immature and to say that it carries no weight in showing a severe character flaw – especially in a high-ranking official – is dismissive and inaccurate. At the same time, I don’t logically believe that flaw has much of an effect (if any) on the ability to successfully perform their duties – proven by the likes of that power list you presented – but it is a reflection of weakness nonetheless and it is a fair point to make when painting a picture of the man as a whole.

    Reply
  6. Tony says:

    David,

    Thanks for weighing in on this. As a reporter, I wanted to pose an honest question about journalism and when this type of thing qualifies as news — doesn’t context dictate all? Suppose the wandering penis in question had belonged to a political candidate whose very platform touted “family values?” Given the context, isn’t he fair game if a reporter finds out about it? Isn’t that news? What if reporters had respected the privacy of hypocrites like Ted Haggard? Is it really my business if a man wants to engage in sex with another man while using drugs? Well, if the man in question is a public figure who claims that doing such things will send people to Hell and that we need legislation to protect “traditional” marriage, maybe it qualifies as news worth reporting… Now for the big question: Does the context of the current scandal qualify as news worth reporting? I know the sex spices things up and gets far too much play from pundits and broadcast, but can a beat reporter really ignore the fact the CIA director resigned? Can we ignore why? Can we ignore the fact there was and is an actual FBI investigation into this? Can ignore that it looks like having a pal in the FBI means they can check your private emails? I agree with you in that I don’t think the sex is newsworthy. But the impact the sex seems to have had on our government… how can a journalist sit this one out?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      To a point, I agree. But only to a point.

      If you are peddling sexual morality or sexual regimentation that marginalizes others, then certainly you are vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy should you violate your own stated ethics and positions. But neither do i want to see that reportorial justification overused. Case in point: Gingrich. As a candidate, he may have advocated for family values, but does divorce itself — in this modern world of ours — constitute hypocrisy on the part of such an advocate. Is a loveless marriage demanded? I mean, if he was caught screwing around, I suppose. I honestly am no student of the Gingrich marital chronologies, but if he fell in love with someone else and told his wife the truth — regardless of her physical condition, the truth is the truth after all — and he didn’t abandon his responsibilities to her as his ex-wife or to any children, do I really want to be casting stones? I don’t know what makes a marriage of two people, or what fails to make a marriage. That’s not my business.

      And no, I don’t expect reporters to neglect to report the CIA director’s departure and his reasons for it. But acknowledge that if there was some proportion to the media circus that ensues — if the coverage were deliberate and mature — would the man have had to resign. Maybe. Maybe he simply feels disappointed in himself, and beleagured and he needs time with family. Maybe the outcome is the same. And if there is a real security breach to be reckoned with — not simply classified-stamped documents but actual sensitive secrets — then that is news, surely. But let’s be honest, that didn’t even rate a mention in the column by Mr. Simon that set me typing. He doesn’t care about anything beyond the human comedy that can be had. He demonstrated that.

      And, dude, we just hounded a guy from Congress for having a consensual digital flirtation on a computer. We didn’t even need an actual woman in the room with the guy. We stuck his pelt on the wall for having a consensual encounter in digital fantasyland. Are we now ready to eliminate all those American men who have used their computers to lust after women — digital version or actual-but-remote variety — other than their wives. Will the last guy left with a pure mind turn out the light? Christ.

      Reply
      • Tony says:

        Understood. I let Mr. Simon (Politico) off the hook in my previous post because I was thinking more about the reporter with the job of covering federal government on a day-to-day basis (what I do) and not the pundit who has somehow ascended to a point where he feels he can comment on the “human comedy.” I just never shake the feeling that being a reporter is a lot like playing God sometimes…In cases like these, there’s really no objective guide to determine who gets inked and who doesn’t. How do we decide who to ignore? And if we ignore, is it unfair to the poor jagoff who’s next to get splashed across the front page because he meets the threshold I’ve set for this kind of thing? I recently talked to a friend about the P4 scandal who said “Who are you to decide what’s news?” I could only respond with, “I’m the reporter.”

        Reply
  7. dfsf says:

    this is a hollow argument. the act of infidelity shows a lack of moral backbone; a lack of foresight.
    If you are foolish/craven enough to do this behind the scenes what else will you do if you see fit?
    if you can break the oath of marriage, what other oaths will you break if you see it as being expedient?

    David, do you have a history of infedelity.

    if the marraige is dead or the love is gone, you should end it, not enter into a charade.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Wait, now you need to know my marital status and my sexual history? Hah.

      It never ceases with a moralist, does it?

      Tell me, my brother, is there any way you can challenge an argument on the merits, without hoping to denigrate those making the arguments.
      If not, let me ask if you’d like to know the sexual histories of everyone on this website or elsewhere who aren’t interested in who General Petraeus beds, and who contend that the hidden sexuality of people isn’t in fact indicative of their public performance? Do all of them have to account for their penises and vaginas before you will move on from ad hominem and argue on the intellectual merit?

      Dude, I didn’t write the essay because I once fucked an extramarital waitress or two in Port Arthur, Texas and I’m now feeling guilty. I wrote it because I think this particular media dynamic is debilitating to the republic and discourages public service by individuals.

      And before you get all flustered let me add that while I feel guilty about plenty of things in life — as many sensate people do, I think — I’ve never actually been to Port Arthur, Texas. Corpus Christi on the other hand…

      No, the charade in my marriage is that my wife even pretends to tolerate me. I happen to love the woman.

      Good lord. That’s it for me on this thread. Talk amongst yourselves.

      Reply
      • dfsf says:

        It was not intended as any slight, more a clarification on your own position.

        your shows have delved into promiscuity and infidelity, and i think if you’re defending/dismissing infedelity, then you should declare your bias (should there be any).

        I don’t car about film/stars infidelities, unless they have previously proselytised about monogamy. However as stated above, if someone in a position of power would betray their partner/family what other rules would they bend or break?

        Reply
        • dfsf says:

          it’s similar to dismissing global warming as an irrelevant issue whilst working for an oil company. vested interests.

          Reply
        • David Simon says:

          And yet it was a slight.

          And it is an entirely different endeavor to depict fictional characters in all of their complex humanity for the purposes of entertainment or literature. Denying a fictional character their basic right of privacy costs no one anything. Doing it to real human beings can be destructive to those human beings, to their families and to society as a whole.

          John O’Neill was in a position of power. If he had remained in that position, the 3,000 Americans killed on 911 might still be alive. Make a real-world choice. Stop indulging your own sanctimony above all other societal value.

          Reply
  8. Daniel Buck says:

    KAS.
    Yes, I’m aware The Onion is a satirical newspaper. Satire, a “literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.”

    More aspects of the Petraeus, um, matter, here,

    “The Sex Scandal as Civic Lesson, Jack Shafer:
    http://blogs.reuters.com/jackshafer/2012/11/15/the-sex-scandal-as-civic-lesson/#comment-12368

    DoD Secretary casts a wider look, at military brass ethical & legal troubles:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/panetta-no-other-military-brass-appear-to-be-involved-in-petraeus-allen-scandal/2012/11/15/92427884-2f1b-11e2-ac4a-33b8b41fb531_story.html?wprss=rss_congress&tid=pp_widget

    Dan

    Reply
  9. Jim Catano says:

    Extremely well done, sir. I wish I’d have had your word budget when I wrote this editorial for our Salt Lake City alt weekly. So far, I’ve not been lynched. Please cover it, if I am.
    http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-217-16751-sex-happens.html

    Reply
  10. danny bloom says:

    this was the best piece i have read on this brouhaha, David. BRAVO. every single word was spot on.
    one thing, when is Roger Simon of Politico going to respomd here in the after-article or in his own “newspaper…”?

    Reply
  11. Ricardo says:

    I find it a bit hard to swallow that a journalist who has clearly cut his teeth trading on sexual indiscretions now feels above other journalists doing the same. Surely this sort of wise-after-the-fact insight has clear parallels with the selective outrage you are lambasting? The central tenet of your article is the lazy and safe prejudice of, “men in general are hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate sex”. That abdication of personal responsibilty is not good enough for me and it’s not good enough from my representatives, although I am not naive enough to believe it doesn’t happen and won’t happen in the future. This is a personal failing of Petraeus, not a general failing of men and is more to do with the relationship between power and sex than men and sex. Sex, which appears to be good journalist fodder whether you are scraping it out of the gutter to spread on the tabloid front pages, or sanctimoniously blogging how much you are above talking about it…

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Are you referring to me? I “cut my teeth” on sexual indiscretions?

      Do you know anything about me or my work? Aside from daily police reporting, which might have brought me into contact with the odd, occasional prostitution arrest, can you name a single sex scandal that occupied my professional time? I’m grateful to have been guided to a better framework of beat reporting by an editor who was not obsessed with the lowest common denominators.

      And Ricardo, I’m not sure you have a good handle on understanding and recognizing sanctimony either: “The abdication of personal responsibility is not good enough for me and it’s not good enough from my representatives…”

      That’s pretty damn textbook right there.

      Reply
      • wilfred says:

        BOOM! That’s a head shot, right there. R.I.P, Ricardo.

        Lesson – If you go for a cheap shot, make sure you connect.

        Reply
        • Ricardo says:

          Wow, eloquent.

          Lesson – it’s easier to form your own opinions if you removes your nose from others’ backsides…

          Reply
      • Ricardo says:

        I don’t know anything about you I’m afraid old boy, although I have read one your books (which I thought was genuinely brilliant, by the way) – I’m not from America). I was moved to reply when a DJ over here shared your post on Twitter. I assumed from your opening statement, “I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency”, that to swear off a currency, you must have had to ‘swear on’ it in the first place – I thought you sounded like an ex-smoker telling smokers not to smoke. Apologies if that assumption was misplaced.

        However, I think it’s a bit harsh to label me sanctimonious for stating what is essentially a truth – I don’t suppose to label myself as morally superior to others, but I do have values and live by those values. I don’t, and genuinely never have, shag around on my wife and don’t think its unreasonable to hope that the majority of people (famous or not) who took the same vows as me (whether religious or civil) do the same – especially when they are asking us to trust them. The thing is, philosophising and intellectualising sexual morality is all well and good, but it doesn’t help the genuine pain of the innocent parties (wives, children, families) and (excuse the melodrama)as long as there are people who are crushed by sexual indiscretions then they must matter, whether you say they do or not. The point is, us ordinairy mortals don’t chose what goes in the papers – you (formerly) and your colleagues do. The only thing we can do is respond to how we feel about the news stories that your profession feeds us. And me, personally, feel that I would rather have representitives that have some semblance of control over their todgers.

        Right, I’m off to double-check the dictionary… samurai, sanatorium, sanctify… aaah, sanctimonious…….

        Reply
  12. Kelsey says:

    I really don’t have a problem with Petraeus banging whoever he wants to bang; it just doesn’t move the needle for me either way. BUT what I do have a problem with is everyone – particularly journalists, talking heads and other members of the media, as well as Republicans – now crawling out of the woodwork to scold everyone for having an opinion on the entire Petraeus soap opera when they either “all in: or completely silent when Democrats were the targets of sex scandals.

    Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton, McGreevey – these guys were torn to shreds by the media, but now that it’s suddenly their Email Penpal/BFF, Republican Golden Boy and Hero David Patraeus who is being swallowed up by the tawdry Republican web he himself helped weave, we are all supposed to take the high road: to avert our eyes; to cover our ears? Ehh I don’t think so.

    And I haven’t even touched on the hypocrisy of these people – again, all Republicans! – who for YEARS stonewalled any acceptance of gays in the military, and who desperately would love to ban them from service again if they were to get a chance.

    (Disclaimer: I’m a liberal and I haven’t read the comments above mine, so if I apologize if I retread ground here.)

    Reply
  13. john bradford says:

    You could have just linked to the dozens of articles decrying American puritanism and celebrating the French open mind to matters of sex and politics that were written during the Clinton scandal instead of rehashing the same tired lines at great length.

    And for someone who is not a Petraeus supporter you sure do praise him a lot and oddly commend his “how does it end?” comment, while ignoring how illogical it was for him to then accept the command and commit more troops. Shouldn’t he have refused command and called the exercise futile? He doesn’t sound so smart to me.

    Instead of an interminable screed about how sex shouldn’t sell, why not direct your anger towards the fraudulent idea that Petraeus was successful in command, how the media was in bed with the military, and the dual and ongoing disasters in Afghan and Iraq that men like Petraeus and the media perpetuate through their incompetence, stupidity and lust for fame, power, and money.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I will say it again since you won’t take me at my word and think me dishonest. I am neither an admirer or detractor of General Petraeus.
      What I read of him in Rick Atkinson’s notable book about the Iraq invasion seemed to reflect a professional soldier who followed orders — as professional soldiers are obliged to follow the legal orders of superiors — but was nonetheless ambivalent about the strategy of the war. Incredibly, from your post, you seem to believe that those in a military chain of command are free to pick and chose which orders they are to obey. Apart from orders which violate the rules of war, I do not believe this to be in any way the case with the U.S. Army. Upon being mobilized by the commander-in-chief, ranking officers do not evaluate a conflict and decide whether or not to resign based on their disappointments with the strategic or tactical plan. That’s just absurd, sorry.

      As to his later command, I am entirely agnostic. I was opposed to the surge and the entire Iraq intervention. I am appalled by the idea of a war of choice. And if his later claimed success against the insurgency was overstated, then those arguments well made should undo him. If he was more effective than the previous commanders, then credit that. Argue all of that on the merits and provide a compelling argument against the general’s tactics and performance. And in doing so, cease squatting at the damn keyhole.

      The point here is really not David Petraeus. Consider the same media dynamic and the career of Martin Luther King. Or Edward R. Murrow. Or Eisenhower. Or whoever you think was an essential and worthy agent for American society. Can you detach from your arguments about Petraeus and consider the cultural and political dynamic by which our obsession with sexual morality becomes debilitating? Or do you just want to argue about Petraeus?

      Reply
      • john bradford says:

        I agree with the central point of your argument regarding the foolish obsession with sexual morality. You’re completely right. However I just find it unoriginal and ultimately futile, and therefore wish you would direct your ire towards something that may have an impact- the media largely acting as cheerleaders and parroting the pentagon lines, especially considering I also agree with your views on wars of choice etc.

        I don’t find you dishonest at all. I’m in accord with your main point. What bothered me was that in your zeal to counter the ‘bash Petraeus over sex crowd’ you veer too much the other way, however slightly, and praised him regarding his service. It’s not his sex life that bothers me, it’s the fact that he was obviously using the media to enhance his reputation/profile, with an eye on getting promotions, book deals, speaking fees etc down the road. Rather than directing scorn towards the media frenzy regarding sex, which I don’t think will change their behavior, perhaps you could shed light on their general corruption and their habit of trading integrity for access.

        As for obeying orders, of course I know soldiers can’t pick and choose, which to obey, but there is a difference between a Private having to grin and bear it and a General blithely agreeing to invade another country even if he thinks it’s a mistake. Certainly you shouldn’t praise him for pointing out it seems to have no end but then going along anyway. That strikes me as pathetic, accepting command and sending troops to their death for a war he doesn’t believe in? I imagine he took command less out of a sense of duty, and more because he knew he could not attain promotions, power and glory, and the subsequent wealth that results, without it.

        In any case I realize I deviated from the crux of your piece and harped on a minor part out of my disdain for Petraeus and the cult of military veneration in the media, so sorry about that and thanks for your time.

        Best of luck and wishing you continued success.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Time and a place for everything, no?

          At this moment, the media is obsessed with sex and scandal, wrongly. At the time of the Iraq intervention, they were in the pocket of the administration what wanted a war of choice. Wait, didn’t I actually say that in this essay? Haven’t I said it elsewhere?

          Am I allowed to say more than one thing every now and then without you arguing against the merits of one statement merely because it isn’t another statement you’d prefer to listen to?

          Reply
        • arcweldr says:

          I’m having hard time trying to keep “ire” and “zeal” in my head at the same time. I might make them cartoons. That would help. Which one gets hit by the Crossword Dictionary next?

          Reply
  14. Jack Daw says:

    If I may reiterate — you say, below, ” Nor is it a politically notable case in which a public figure is on record arguing for certain moral standards which he is then discovered to have violated.” But I’m afraid it is that, or something close to it. Soldiers are indeed prosecuted for such things — sometimes, if not often. And while this is a bit of a grey area in Petraeus’ case, since he resigned his commission (I believe: it’s a little unclear and I could be wrong) to become CIA director — as it was with Clinton, who was, after all, Commander-in-Chief — and while, too, you may think that allowing for such prosecutions in the military is equally silly, if I were a soldier under Petraeus who was punished for such an infraction, I’d be mighty pissed off if my general was caught, admitted what he’d done, and didn’t suffer the consequences.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Military prosecutions for adultery, when they happen, are largely the result of the military wanting to penalize personnel for other, more substantial reasons and using the code of conduct where it can be employed. If they want you, they got you. But in practical terms, if you’ve ever walked the streets and enjoyed the nightlife of Fayetteville or Oceanside or Subic Bay, well, no one gives a shit.

      If you bed an NCO’s wife, sure. Sleep with ten Filipino bar girls, not so much.

      You’re standing on a lot of ceremony with this argument. Marines and soldiers I have known, married or otherwise, don’t give that part of the military code too much thought in ordinary circumstances.

      Reply
      • Jack Daw says:

        I’m standing on a certain amount of ceremony, it’s true, and as I say, it’s not quite enough to cashier the guy. But, look, most people — most people that I know, anyway — don’t give pot laws too much thought, either. Not for a couple of joints, anyway. And — you would know better than I do — but I suspect that most cops don’t care about those laws, either. Unless, as you say, they want to penalize people for other reasons. Or pick up some overtime.

        There are people serving time for minor possession. There are people with records for the same. I don’t like it, but there it is. So what do you do when the Chief of Police gets caught with a joint? The answer isn’t obvious.

        While I’m here, I also think you might want to reconsider the whole ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we could go back to good old days, when a guy could get some tail and everyone looked the other way?” stance. (And it is, almost always, guys: I can’t think of a single powerful women in government who’s been caught cheating on her husband, though I’m sure they do it, too.) Those days were great for the guys, but often much less great for the women involved; and such attitudes were part of a much broader system of mores about sex, privilege, and power, that excused white guys for a lot of bad behaviour, while punishing or neglecting women, gays, and pretty much everyone else. It’s possible that one could revive or retain the idea that sexual conduct between consenting adults is professionally irrelevant without returning us to a chauvinistic world. But it’s also worth noting that a single ethical standard doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it’s part of a whole system of managing our relations to each other, and it’s intimately linked to many other attitudes, from which it isn’t easily separated.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          What men can and can’t do is between their own conscience, the power and importance of their interpersonal relationships and commitments, and the manner in which they address the human commonality of sexual desire. What women can and can’t do is dependent on pretty much the same variables. And it is the journey of a lifetime for all of us.

          No one needs to take that journey with the rest of the world as spectators. That helps no one and it harms many, the spectators included.

          Reply
          • Jack Daw says:

            It would be nice if this were true — the first paragraph, I mean. But to me it smacks a little of “Let them eat cake”. Many, many forces impinge upon what people can and can’t do — or at least, what they can get away with. I, too, would very much like the whole matter to rest on personal integrity rather than what the peeping toms say, but I also recognize that we live in a culture with a vast, complex, and subtle set of norms, and what’s easy for me, being straight, white, male, and perhaps most importantly, self-employed, is not so easy for others, who, as things stand, have neither my privilege nor my independence.

            But I’m afraid I’m straying off topic here. — Yeah, Roger Simon is an asshole.

            Reply
            • Jack Daw says:

              And a footnote, from today’s Times: “Mr. Petraeus, [Obama] said, told him that he did not meet his own standards for holding the job.”

              I don’t know much about Petraeus, but from this, and other similar remarks, it seems at least possible to me that he resigned, not from pressure, but from personal guilt. It would be unusual if he did, but it’s not impossible.

              Reply
            • David Simon says:

              You may be right. I may be a little too utopian in my language on behalf of free will and privacy. Fact is, there’s a lot of research that says monogamy, while a noble endeavor in many fundamental and humanistic ways, isn’t anything other than an imposed external argument on the otherwise polygamous nature of homo sapiens, or at least the male of the species. Struggle may be fixed and certain.

              But I’m not sure that the imposed shame of the collective — when it reaches a point of not allowing people to do the business they are trained and capable of doing — is anything but a recipe for more damage.

              Reply
              • Jack Daw says:

                Oh, this argument I disagree with strongly. The “men, and maybe women, are hard-wired to cheat”, evolutionary psychology thing. If humans are hard-wired for anything, they’re hard-wired for a lot of things: violence, bigotry, selfishness in many forms. Part of the purpose of a culture is to counteract our “natural” tendencies, when they interfere with the peaceful functioning of the whole of society, or our sense of fairness, or justice. That’s what civilization is for, and we should be grateful we have one, whatever its flaws.

                I’m not saying that you’re wrong about easing up on our attitudes towards coveting thy neighbor’s wife. I’m just saying that appealing to supposedly inherent biological urges isn’t a good way to make your point.

                Reply
                • David Simon says:

                  Whoa, fella. Read me carefully.

                  No one is “appealing” to inherent biological urges, or using them to validate personal behavior, or even to undermine prevailing societal ethics. All that happened was that I pointed out that some smart behavioral scientists have demonstrated that such urges are in play. What we do with that knowledge is a question for behavorists and ethicists and, well, ordinary folks. But whether we like it or not, behavioral science exists and it keeps finding stuff out about the human condition.

                  Reply
                  • Jack Daw says:

                    Fair enough. I thought I detected a note of “guys are going to stray, it’s their nature, get over it”, but if I’m wrong, I retract my previous post. (I can do that, can’t I?)

                    Personally, I think behavioral science is horseshit, mostly — it’s conclusions readily divided into the staggeringly obvious, and the patently untrue. And I generally think that the human condition is whatever we make of it. But I recognize that I’m in a minority on that one.

                    Reply
  15. Jack Daw says:

    Railing against the stupidity, hypocrisy, and presumptuousness of journalists is easy enough to do — Jon Stewart gets 5 or 10 minutes out of it almost every night — but I think there are a couple of points worth making about Petraeus.

    First of all, it’s a little too soon to tell whether this was a minor, private, and excusable peccadillo, or something more alarming. As it stands, the story is still breaking, and it certainly seems to be taking some strange turns. It’s quite possible that it will all turn out to be inconsequential, and it would probably be healthier if such things were investigated before they were reported (though I can’t say I trust the people in charge of such investigations not to bury their findings), but on the whole I don’t think it’s either alarmist or intrusive to be concerned about a spy trading intimacies with a reporter. Kennedy and Dulles may have done it, but I would certainly be happier if they hadn’t.

    Second, the idea that infidelity is common and innate is simply not true: many people, if not most, stay true to their spouses, and a certain portion of those are presumably not tempted.

    Thirdly, adultery is indeed against the law, in the military, and not unreasonably so: soldiers are often away from home for a long time, infidelity is very bad for morale, and it’s especially difficult to countenance now that we have a military that’s substantially female, and which has had more than a few serious incidents of sexual assault. I will readily grant cheating happens, and happens all the time; I will grant, too, that no one has accused Petraeus of rape; and finally and most importantly, I will grant that he’s no longer a general. (Though if he were, would you still be so sanguine about his behavior?) All of these mitigate against his being cashiered, but none of them dispose me to be terribly sympathetic to him. How many soldiers under his command were prosecuted for adultery?

    Does this make him “stupid”? Not to me. Do I like watching him — or Ms. Broadwell — mocked or dismissed? Not at all. Would I ask for his resignation if I were President? Tough call, but probably not. It would be interesting to see how effective he could be if he tried to ride it out. But there’s rectitude and there’s rectitude: sure, Mitterand got away with it. But what about Dominique Strauss-Kahn — who also, so far as we know, broke no laws?

    Reply
    • Jean-Christophe says:

      Regarding Mitterand and Strauss-Kahn… The difference is pretty obvious, Mitterand had a lover he cared for and recognized the child born from that union while DSK was basically fucking everything that moved and is suspected of having used his influence in exchange of sexual favors, besides for suspected attempted rapes etc. Plus he was not even a brilliant politician.

      Reply
  16. Henry Cherry says:

    As much as you want this not to be about the sex it is, and while you reject the claim that he should have known better, I do not. Regardless of what Allen Dulles did 60 or 70 years ago, Petraeus bounded into a trap well high lighted by previous prevaricators in the 24 hour news cycle. Sure, your former Sun compatriot didn’t make sense in the Clinton/Petraeus comparison. But while you want this to be about the media of which your great stories were produced- thanks by the way for the oft underlooked The Corner- there exists something called intelligence outside of immorality. This is the kind of monumental goof that the Profumo affair was 60 some years ago for the UK. What makes this wrong isn’t that he dallied some dandy, no what makes this wrong is the doors he left open for what could have been a serious leak of classified information. That’s the story. Classified information in the wrong hands can get people killed, and is serious business as shown by the well deserved indictment of Scooter Libby… Anyway you look at this, it is a mess. But Petraeus brought the media to his honeypot of mistakes and hubris while pretending to secure vital information to the nation.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      You’re applying an intellectual rigor to the human pursuit of sexual gratification.

      I don’t think a good many people think very much when it comes to lust and sexuality. It is the opposite of thought. It’s part of what makes sex the extraordinary adventure — or disastrous misadventure — that it is.

      Smart people do all kinds of grandly stupid shit over sex. Dumb and unimaginative people, devoid of leadership skills or complex thinking, might as easily be the most sexually moral creatures on this misbegotten planet. Or not. One thing has nothing to do with the other. Take out the plurality of human beings who ever had a sexual misadventure, and the pool of talent available to achieve all of our myriad goals is simply thinner. Better to grow up and not give a damn about who fucks whom and instead focus on who can solve our fundamental problems.

      Re: Classified documents and the risk to American intelligence. If you show me were genuinely top secret material got anywhere near the wrong hands, that’s one thing. Classified documents on the laptop of the general’s biographer and girlfriend. Not so much. As I’ve said elsewhere on this thread, I was a working reporter. To me, given my government’s willingness to call any document top secret, a classified document can be anything from a list of our active operatives in Teheran to General Custer’s last dry cleaning receipt.

      Reply
  17. Daniel Buck says:

    David,
    We don’t really disagree about the sex part — or, as Mrs. Patrick Campbell once said in reference to a similar situation, “I don’t care what they do as long as they don’t do it in the street & frighten the horses.” Petraeus tumbled into the street and frightened the horses.

    Nor is my view personal; I think Petraeus’s professional competence was vastly overrated. The Broadwell matter is a window into that incompetence, appalling bad judgement that embarrassed the soldiers who served under him, his colleagues at the CIA, and his boss, the president.

    Related views here:
    Spencer Ackerman, “How Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus,”
    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/11/petraeus-cult-2/

    Tara McKlevey, “The Writer and the General: What the Petraeus Affair Exposed About DC,”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/the-writer-and-the-general-what-the-petraeus-affair-exposed-about-dc/265161/

    Dan

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Again, if General Petraeus is an overrated hack, based on performance, then make the case on performance and be done with all of the keyhole peeping.

      And no, you are still missing the entire point of my post, in my opinion. The Broadwell matter is decidedly not a window into his incompetence. It is not a window into anything. Using it for such indulges in the disconnect that we continue to embrace between private sexual indulgence and public, professional performance. There is no fucking window. It tells us nothing.

      John O’Neill loved women, and too many of them at once to be sensible about it. He was also a great head of counterterrorism for the United States and he was sorely missed once his superiors thought one was a “window” into the other. As many times as you try to suggest otherwise, I am calling bullshit on the notion that sexuality gives you any insight whatsoever into the professional and public man or woman. All it does is give prurient gossips and moralizers an opportunity to project their disdain without having to bother with actual qualitative assessments of performance.

      Again, the point isn’t Petraeus. The point is the dynamic, which is corruptive and debilitating to us all.

      Reply
      • Corey Pein says:

        There have been countless stories on poor military performance at all levels over the past 10 years. The public isn’t that interested, so editors aren’t interested, and so the most career-minded reporters tend to ignore and avoid those more substantive stories.

        As Broadwell (who was acting as a journalist, if not one by training) and her journalistic collaborators knew, there’s more money to be made selling fairy tales.

        As for the general seeming to be a “professional soldier who followed orders”—that assessment is somewhat lacking. A number of hard-working reporters and writers who’ve examined Petraeus know he is at the least “a very political general, skilled at using the press and with friends aplenty on Capitol Hill” (See Bacevich, http://www.tnr.com/blog/foreign-policy/77086/civilian-control-american-power-barack-obama .) Writers who’ve pushed the counter-narrative, like Michael Hastings, have been attacked and marginalized for it.

        Your point is well taken. It’s a shame that sexual behavior is seemingly the only thing that creates consequences for powerful public figures in America.

        But the bigger problem with Petraeus and the media is all the ass-kissing coverage that preceded this sex scandal. Up until now, the national media—which might’ve better deployed its resources, as you suggest, on assessments of performance—was more interested in building myths around supposed strategic geniuses like Petraeus, thus somehow vindicating these terribly ill-chosen wars of ours.

        If your concern is really the set-‘em-up-then-knock-‘em-down media merry-go-’round, then you ought to come down just as hard on the image-builders. Or harder, for that matter. At least it takes a little elbow grease to dig up a sex scandal. The propagandists don’t have to work that hard.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Ok. So Petraeus, to your view, may not be the worst sort to fall victim to the dynamic. But that does not validate the dynamic.

          On this website, there is a blog item about a D.C. councilman recently caught up in a paper-thin federal indictment to which he was obliged to plead guilty. I called the federal case weak for reasons having to do with a particular statute that makes many Americans who are not particularly criminal in their intent nonetheless vulnerable to severe penalties. My item was about the process.

          Those who held the councilman in low regard became increasingly exercised and went to so far as to declaim that he was a bad guy, and therefore we should use any method we have to get him out of office. You can see the corruption inherent in that logic, and frankly, our media culture’s devotion to the personal sexuality of the public and famous falls under the same criticism, in my opinion.

          Reply
  18. Jim Minter says:

    Fine comments, all… or almost all anyway.

    I’m left musing that if we had today’s “news” media obsessing over the private lives of officials “back then” we could have lost WWII.

    After all, Ike was shagging his driver. Clemmie was running around on Winston who was pickled. Franklin and Eleanor had girlfriends. Dump ‘em all! Big news! Help der Fuhrer maintain rightist morality!

    That said, we must concede the comment of Bib Willis, formerly of Florida Public TV: “Us women will just never be as smart as you guys. We don’t have penises to keep our brains in.”

    Reply
  19. Daniel Buck says:

    No offense mis amigos, but this was all for the best. Petraeus’s reputation was vastly inflated, in part by his own inflationary skills efforts and in part by those of his fawning journalist fans. (“Show me a reporter with a respect for authority and I’ll show you a lousy reporter,” as the axiom goes.) Several more years at CIA and Petraeus would have turned it into the CIA of old, the Bay of Pigs CIA, the CIA that invaded countries, that overthrew governments, and not coincidentally, the CIA led by Allen Dulles.

    There was something off putting about man who wears a salad bar on a civilian suit, colors his hair, arrives at a party escorted by 28 motorcycle policemen, and who beds his groupie-biographer.
    The affair has little to do with sex, and everything to do with David Petraeus.

    There is a bright side, many Americans have learned that we are still at war in Afghanistan. Details at The Onion:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/nation-horrified-to-learn-about-war-in-afghanistan,30367/
    Dan

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      No, you’re not getting it.

      It is not for the best to maintain this puritanical dynamic of build-em-up-and-knock-em-down using the metric of sexual misadventure. If General Petraeus is less than he ought to be, then challenge and dispatch him on matters of performance. But enough with this dystopic and irrelevant dynamic that is sexual moralism.

      Try to think bigger than your low regard for David Petraeus. Try to think about the overall cost to getting the best and most effective people to risk public service in the first place — if sexual morality is to be a point of open public debate, as much or more than how well you do your damn job. Try to think about process, about our media culture, about larger things than the extant victim and whether you like the guy or not.

      An idea is in play here. And that idea isn’t David Petraeus.

      Reply
    • kas says:

      um, the ONION is a satirical newspaper. Quoting it is kinda like saying the american military is lazy because of Beetle Bailey.

      Reply
  20. Rewrite says:

    The thing that struck me first is that there is no mention of Clarence Thomas, not only in Mr. Simon’s post but in any of the comments that have followed so far, yet there have been several comments about the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Whatever you think of Clarence Thomas, and that is not the issue here nor should it be, he was put through the same kind of wringer that Bill Clinton was long before Bill Clinton was. If one is saying what was done to Bill Clinton was wrong, then one should agree that what was done to Clarence Thomas was also wrong.

    The most troubling thing to me was that you so quickly dismiss the lying in all these cases. ["That if someone will lie about sex, they’ll lie about other things? Really? No, sorry, fuck that tripe. Character has become the self-righteous rallying cry of far greater hypocrisy than any cheating husband."]
    The adultery may not matter that much, as long as permission was granted by the spouse. (which one must wonder if is was on some level in the Clinton’s marriage). Just be open and honest about it.
    But if these people (Gingrich, Spitzer, Giuliani. Weiner) are lying to the one person they are supposed to love more than anyone else in the world, why would they hesitate to lie to us. If they so easily break their wedding vows why would they possibly uphold their oaths of office? If they treat their families so callously, why should their constituents expect any better?
    And though it not a crime, perhaps the scariest thing is that all these ‘public servants’, through a combination of hubris and stupidity, thought that they were somehow special and wouldn’t get caught. Those are not the kind of people I want to have in public office.
    Politics is about character. Most of us know politicians will not keep all the promises they made. Many people voted for Barack Obama in 2008 over first Hillary Clinton and later John McCain because they thought he had more character (and both he and Mitt Romney came across as two of the least likely politicians to cheat on their wives). While he disappointed many of us by not keeping so many of those promises (such as shutting down Guantanamo) one still feels he is trying to do the right thing.

    So if you are saying that men are just biologically built to have clandestine affairs (which no doubt is one of the rationalizations many of these disgraced politicians used) and that lying is somehow quarantined from the other parts of their lives and they are otherwise true and honorable people I not only don’t buy it, I find it sexist.
    If you are saying that people are imperfect and will make mistakes, sometimes major ones, I agree with you. And if you are further saying that some people shouldn’t be booted out of office for it, I agree that each case is different and should be judged on its own merits. But the facts should be brought to light so that we, the voters, can make best make that judgement .
    And if you are saying that politicians are just like everyone else, that they are flawed and make mistakes, doesn’t it follow that we should be giving them less control over our lives, that government should only be engaged in tasks that cannot be done by the individual, that they should but not telling us what drugs we can use, what we can and cannot buy, whom we can do business with?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      You do understand that there is a fundamental difference between allegations of sexual harrassment and consensual sexual relations between adults — even adults who are married to other people. One violates our legal standards for workplace behavior and is subject to legal sanction. The other is what happens when grown ups like each other and get carried away.

      That’s why no one mentioned Clarence Thomas.

      Reply
      • Rewrite says:

        I have worked in government and private businesses and in had more than enough education on sexual harassment (sp). They all made clear that a superior engaging in a sexual relationship with an underling was sexual harassment and would lead to dismissal.
        So yes, I do understand that a person who is the President of the United States admitting that they received a blow job from an intern and then claimed that it wasn’t technically a sexual relationship is much more serious than alleged sexual relationship between two adults in a workplace. Do you?
        If not, can you honestly tell me that if the Supreme Court nominee had been Stevens or Sotomayer and the President was George W. Bush you would feel the same way (because I can). Can you honestly tell me that if Monica Lewinsky was your daughter you would feel like she was just a grown-up who happened to like President Clinton/Bush and got carried away?

        And that still leaves the rest of my post unanswered.

        P.S. You might consider avoiding phrases like “you understand…” and “you’re not getting it…”. They can come across as condescending and drive away potential readers.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Are you recollecting that Ms. Lewinsky was alleging harassment or intimidation, or that she made any complaint of such either before or after the incident became public? I do not so recollect. Because that was precisely what happened at the Thomas hearings. Anita Hill alleged a pattern of inappropriate workplace behavior.

          Mr. Clinton getting sexually serviced by a much younger but nonetheless adult woman may be appalling and unseemly, but absent some complaint by the woman that she was coerced or intimidated, I am not sure it corresponds to an actual allegation of sexual harrassment. It is certainly not “much more serious.” Frankly, I don’t think it serious at all.

          That Mr. Clinton lied about it? If you read my original post, I am indifferent to people lying to the public about their private sexual lives. We all are inclined to lie to avoid the inevitable shame of having our personal, compartmentalized sexual misadventures revealed not only to the general public, but to those close to us who will be harmed by the revelation. Of course men and women lie about sex. Standing up righteously and complaining about the false statement as if it means much is farcical, given my argument that society has no damn business asking the question in the first place.

          If there was anyone who had a credible account of sexual harassment against any government nominee and brought it forward to be considered at confirmation hearings, I would expect that it would be given a careful review. Ideologies aren’t relevant to any of that.

          And if Monica Lewinsky was my daughter, I would think poorly of the sexual compulsions of Bill Clinton and I would personally hold him in low regard. I would also be a little disappointed in my daughter, assuming I was treating her as an adult and not infantilizing her. She was involved as well. Speaking at a distance, without any actual emotional baggage on me, I hope that I would not confuse my low regard for Clinton’s personal behavior with his public leadership and public performance. As I keep saying, I don’t think human sexual behavior offers any insight at all into public performance. But most of all, if I was that young woman’s parent, I would despise a media culture that could so easily use her as a political pawn, and more than that, a partisan gamesmanship that would, against her will, reveal her private sexual experiences for purposes of political gain. That’s the part that really disgusts me.

          I’m sorry if my language puts you off. But you might want to go back and read the introduction to this website. Argument is savored. Sharp rhetoric is assumed. Sarcasm is no sin. Only fallacies of logic — and argumentum ad hominem, in particular — are denied quarter. If this is too rough and tumble for you, I understand. But we aren’t here to make everything polite dinner conversation. There’s no real fun in that.

          Reply
          • Rewrite says:

            I think maybe I get it now.
            I think maybe you, as someone has found professional success (and deservedly so), share the same point of view as a Petreus, a Gingrich, a Spitzer…that you are different from the average person, that lying about your sexual life — and no, not just to the public but to the people who matter most to you in your life — is all right because somehow it is for the greater good, that the ends justify the means, and it is all for the public good.
            Every ‘successful’ person has had much more than an average share of breaks along the way. In most cases they have brought a lot of talent to the table also. But those who have power and who credit their own talent too much are dangerous; those that realize they were lucky but think it is because of divine providence perhaps more so. Patraeus lied to his wife and brought shame to his family. He also wanted to greatly expand the murdering of foreigners through the CIA drone program. I think the two attitudes are related, but either way we are well-rid of him.
            We are not a society of ‘great men and women’, we are a country of individuals. Most of us are easily replaced and those in positions of power not humble enough to recognize that should not be there.

            Your language doesn’t put me off because of the language, it puts me off because when one uses that type of language it is not designed to reason and convince and has no place in a logical argument.
            More importantly it shows a lack of willingness to be listen to other’s opinions and change ones mind. Your responses on this page, to myself and others, only confirm that.
            I thought perhaps because of who you were that your page would be a place to find interesting discussions and not a virtual version of political talk radio, but apparently I fell into my own ‘great man’ trap.
            Thanks for listening and replying though – it has been interesting, And good luck on your future endeavours.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Yes, that’s the ticket!

              When ideas and arguments fail to achieve sufficiently, then rush onward to that last, sad intellectual cul de sac: Argumentum ad hominem.

              He only argues what he does because of who he is! And I can tell you who he is just from his arguments and how he argues and, oh yeah, a handful of facts gleaned at the distance of a wikipedia entry. Allow for some long-distance, half-assed pychoanalysis and I can solve the riddle of why this jerkoff can’t be convinced by my own altogether worthy insights and arguments.

              Well, brother, I will accord you more respect than you seem to manage for others in saying the following:

              I don’t know you. I have never met you. And even if I thought I had some clues about you from the manner in which you engage on this website, or the content of your posts, or your use of language, I would still willingly restrain myself from attempting to characterize you or stereotype you in order to achieve debate points. Because doing so is rhetorically fallacious and dishonest. You were barely holding a cogent argument to begin with, but in the end, in one final fart of an unthinking post, you indulged yourself in barnyard alchemy, turning all of your argument to pure, steaming horseshit.

              Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I just don’t agree.

      I think sex is one of the most compartmentalized elements of human existence. I think it provides remarkably little insight into how a human being conducts his or her professional, public life. I think efforts to glean insight from sexual behavior and apply such to public performance are extremely dubious. And most of all, I think that sexual dishonesty — rooted as it is in the fear of societal sanction and in the corresponding reluctance to overtly harm spouses and children and others if the dishonesty were revealed — says exactly nothing about an individual’s capacity for honesty and integrity in the professional and public realm.

      You speak in generalities: Explain Martin Luther King. Or Roosevelt. Or Eisenhower.
      Your suppositions deny our national history of its greatest heroes.

      Reply
      • Rewrite says:

        How can a man be great if he is afraid of societal sanction? What makes you think that is the motivation in these cases and not that these men think because they are ‘great men’ the rules don’t apply to them — that they won’t get caught or it won’t matter? And if that is what they are thinking then what other rules apply to them? How can anyone truly have a real marriage or a real family life for that matter if they are being unfaithful? Not to be personal, but I can’t help wondering if Mrs. Simon feels the same way.

        I don’t truly know any of these men, and neither do you or anyone else. And speaking of generalizations, how are my suppositions denying our national history of its greatest heroes?
        Somehow you have lept to the conclusion that I think if someone has cheated on his or her spouse and lied about it they are disqualified from public life when I never intimated that. I does show a lack of character, and that includes Roosevelt, MLK, and Eisenhower among others (and more so in the serial cheaters as opposed to a Patraeus for example), but it doesn’t disqualify them from greatness.

        Reply
  21. Julie says:

    I agree that the U.S. is pathetically immature about these issues, however we do tend to glorify leaders as super-human only to claim shock and (awe) when they fall on their own sword, or in this case, their penises, like average shmucks. Petraeus had to step down out of fairness to the underlings in the CIA who would have been or have been ousted for the same trespass; it’s a matter of equity and he is not shielded by his power, but made more vulnerable by it in the end, as all men are. It is amazing that in a country with so many people hungry, homeless, unemployed, sick, imprisoned, addicted, suffering, the media can spend hours, days, weeks covering a sex scandal and the Congress will spend time and money investigating it. Inside the Beltway, attention and energy will always be drawn below the belt.

    Reply
  22. Jesse Dickerman says:

    Any chance you’d agree to do a regular column somewhere (Grantland maybe…)? I love the posts but damn it, they’re not frequent enough!

    Reply
  23. Steve Moore says:

    I agree that there is much too much titillation about the sexcapades of celebrities in our culture.

    I also do not think strictly speaking that Petraeus had to resign over this affair.

    However, if it is stuck in my face I have to assess it and form an opinion about it.

    First, this affair wasn’t just about the general and the biographer. It was about his wife, her husband, and her two small children. Unless you want to take the position that marriage and child rearing are meaningless, then you cannot help but condemn this particular case of adultery.

    Of course, after that abstract judgment you can move on, and most of us have. But this is in the spotlight for political reasons.

    Do the indiscretions of great leaders empty the cupboard of greatness? (BTW, I note you left out Warren Harding.) I do not know. I do know that certain types of leadership carry with it the presumption of personal integrity and self control. Lurid gossip about the sex lives of great men and women will diminish them, and, in many cases such gossip is designed for just that purpose.

    People have their own measures here. The peccadilloes of MLK never bothered me, because I never really saw him as a religious leader. On the other hand, JFK’s relentless whoring makes him appear, historically, to be a truly disgusting personality. Others of course will continue to worship his legacy. Whatever.

    The bottom line point is that the sexuality of other people, if they are thrust in our face, or if political events (like a resignation) put them in the public square, forces us to deal — not with the sexuality of Jack or Jill — but with our own personal values as it pertains to right and wrong sexual conduct. To say that we shouldn’t judge in these cases is equivalent to saying that we shouldn’t have any strongly defined attitudes about right and wrong as it pertains to sex. Which makes no sense at all.

    On the other hand, I agree, we all ought to be ashamed of ourselves to the extent that we revel in seeing people humiliated.

    Reply
  24. Hebisner says:

    Its a good thing the Director of the CIA is not immune to scrutiny if there is even the smallest hint he may have disclosed classified information inappropriately, which there seems to have been. The elements of the story that I think are shocking is that this investigation became public in the first place, and the ease by which the FBI was able to examine personal correspondence. Once it became clear that no criminal behavior was involved, the investigation should have been closed without public disclosure. And relative ease by which the FBI was able to procure and examine all this correspondence should make us all concerned.

    Reply
  25. Hank says:

    I am reminded of cartoonist Gilbert Shelton’s analysis of a New Testament story:
    Jesus halts a mob, saying “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone”
    — and in Shelton’s interpretation, the leader of the mob immediately says:
    “Oh! Right, Lord, you get the first throw, here, you can use my rock ….”

    Reply
  26. gailforcewinds says:

    On a related note, isn”t the national security “threat” of an affair a threat of our own making that would not exist if we Americans didn’t hypocrticially hold our leaders to such puritanical standards? More musings on that here: http://stuffthingsjunk.tumblr.com/post/35653249334/petraeus-promiscuity-as-a-national-security-threat

    Reply
  27. Deke says:

    The coarsening of American culture is fueled by media outlets (true and otherwise) who have too much time on their programming clocks and not enough boots on the ground to cover real news. It’s much easier to just troll in sexual mischief. After all, isn’t that reality TV is all about today? Then the instant experts on Facebook and Twitter pour their gasoline on the fire and we’re off to the races.

    Reply
  28. Corey Pein says:

    Sure, the media’s treatment of this story is by and large obnoxious. This should be no more surprising than the fact that adults are running around having affairs. But there are some really compelling angles to this story that are inextricable from the private sexual behavior of the key players, principally having to do with the FBI’s pursuit of the case in the first place. Also, the speed of the general’s resignation implies that he wants this story to go away ASAP—and doesn’t that suggest that there may be something more substantial going on, related to the affair or the emails, that he’d rather not become public?

    It’s not “just sex” in this case, David. And it’s going to take more reporting for the more consequential story to emerge. Don’t doubt that it’s there.

    Reply
  29. Jorge22 says:

    I thought that Tom Ricks made a very astute comment on NPR this morning ( http://www.npr.org/2012/11/14/165093521/gen-petraeus-is-too-important-to-just-be-thrown-out?ft=1&f=3 ) — “Our standards have a changed [since Eisenhower], I think, in way that is not for the better. We are very lax about enforcing professional standards and demanding professional competence, yet somehow we have become very insistent abut judging people’s private, consenting relations with other adults.” So, yeah, you can screw up a critical intelligence, military or foreign policy issue and not be held accountable in any meaningful way, as long as you keep your pants zipped up. America loses both ways, it seems to me.

    Reply
    • Les says:

      How do you feel about Tom Rick’s idea that America is to blame for his affair?

      Reply
      • Jorge22 says:

        Hah. Yes, that’s a little over the top, isn’t it? I didn’t link to Ricks’s interview to endorse everything he says. I just think that he’s right to say that it’s doubly bad to focus too much on sexual “misconduct” between consenting adults when it is accompanied by uncritical acceptance of poor professional performance.

        Reply
        • Les says:

          True. But I think that point needs to be weighted against the person mentioning it. Tom Ricks has been General Petraeus’ leading advocate for years and has done much to foster the idea that he is America’s greatest military leader. Even in that piece he elevated Petraeus to the stature of Eisenhower.

          The detractors and supporters are out in full force and it’s always best to view any opinion on the matter with an eye on where the opinion is originating from.

          Reply
  30. Andrew Kingman says:

    David,
    I am a huge fan of yours, and you frequently lead me to question my own positions through your forceful and aggressive inquiries. Curious to hear your answers to the following two points:

    1) Re: the fact that national figures’ private lives shouldn’t become public. Generally speaking, I agree. However, what about those who preach social conservatism, and who themselves happen to be homosexual, or at the very least, engage in homosexual behavior? You say “Fuck Gingrich’s marriage,” and yet he repeatedly espouses “Family Values” as central to his belief system and why he is deserving of public votes. As a journalist, would you think that their hypocrisy is relevant? Or newsworthy? If you would answer no, I would disagree. If a public figure is preaching something wholly at odds with his private life, to me that deserves scrutiny.

    Likewise, it’s generally newsworthy when, say, a political candidate claims he is free and clear of influence, but has positions that match up closely with his biggest contributors. Do you think that also does not merit coverage?

    2) Sure, the way that the media covers scandal is absurd and, oftentimes, antithetical to what real journalism is about. But aren’t you letting the adulterers you mention – Petraeus, Clinton, Gingrich, etc. – off the hook a little too easily? Aren’t there responsibilities, explicit or implicit, that come along with being on a national stage, in a position of great power? Even if we concede that adultery should generally not define someone entirely, isn’t the fact that a president was unfaithful to his wife in the oval office still relevant in terms of how we view someone? I suppose your answer would be that no, it is irrelevant. Just not sure I agree.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    Reply
  31. Obamney says:

    On a very much smaller scale, I have walked in Gen. Petraeus’ shoes, so I judge not.

    However, I AM taking some glee in the fact that the surveillence nation we’ve built is eating it’s own. And that the FBI is rightly taking some shit for their handling of the situation…..the same FBI that likes to set up/entrap dissidents.

    Yes, journalism sucks today. One quick scan of the headlines is proof that nothing much is working well. While I would love it if one single industry in America was immune to the mediocrity that Wall Street demands, it’s too much to expect, I fear.

    Keep tilting at the windmill, though. Someone has to do it.

    Reply
  32. nothing to see here says:

    And now even YOU are writing about it! Yes, hypocrisy. Yes, repressed sexuality. Yes, bad journalism (boy, you sure took a newspaper to the other Simon’s nose!). And yes, it’s the same old hackneyed story:
    the salacious, the “wicked” and the fallen (although your article didn’t touch on a point that irks me further — that it’s the women in these scandals who are painted as the tramps). Realistically though, even your moral outrage won’t change how much people love to relish it (like slowing to look at a roadside accident or the joy that is schadenfreude).

    SO ready for this to be yesterday’s news.

    Reply
  33. henleytx11 says:

    Churchill famously said “The price of greatness is responsibility”, which is something Clinton has never accepted nor assumed. His presidency was, and his post-presidency is rife with examples of assigning blame to others for his own personal and professional shortcomings. And I’m writing as someone who worked for him in on a national level in his 1992 campaign. As for Petraeus, I have no doubt that Petraeus did not resing but was forced out, and that his September 14th statement in reference to Benghazi was informed and/or prompted by the knowledge that the White House was aware of his relationship with Mrs. Broadwell and might soon use it against him. Both Clinton and Petraeus were and are highly accomplished men, but fail to attain the status of greatness based on any number of reasons, including Churchill’s definition.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Well, if you’ve read much on Churchill, you will of course be aware that he may have been the highest functioning alcoholic of the last century. I say that with even greater respect for the man and his accomplishments, but I say it with the certitude of someone who has seen. on display, in the War Rooms exhibit in London, a detail of just how much alcohol the prime minister consumed when he was leading Britian through its darkest days. Beginning with his waking glass of champagne and culminating in his last bedtime brandy, the drinking that this man did every day of his life is medically astonishing. The price of greatness may be responsibility, but woe for the Twentieth Century if a bunch of journalists and moralists had gathered around to make more of an issue of the prime minister’s alcoholism than his governance.

      If that sounds hyperbolic, I will provide you a very real tragedy, costing thousands of American lives, with which I am personally familiar:

      One of my best sources when I was a newspaper reporter was an FBI agent named John O’Neill, who when I met him was the head of the public corruption squad in the Baltimore field office. John was the consummate squad leader and investigator, a man who loved to make a complicated case and who loved to hear the handcuffs click. When he got promoted out of Baltimore, I was almost aggrieved to lose his insight and guidance, not to mention the stories. He was also an incredible collector of women, a serial seducer who backed up girlfriends in every quadrant of the city and beyond. Oh, he was married, too.

      He eventually became the head of the FBI’s national counterterrorism effort, investigating and charging defendants in the bombing of the USS Cole and our East African embassies. As I said, he was very good at what he did. He hunted all the way to Pakistan a suspect who had opened fire on commuters outside the Langley CIA headquarters, and brought that man back for prosecution. He also remained a notorious pussyhound, and his high profile and flash with women became a major irritant to Louis Freeh and others above him at the bureau. Their vision of an FBI supervisor was far more dour and deliberate than John O’Neill could manage. The man had his own table at Elaine’s, for chrissake.

      After the arrests in the USS Cole case, the Yemeni secret place were prohibiting FBI agents from questioning those in their custody and so John went to work on the heads of Yemeni law enforcement, even taking some of them back to New York, wining and dining them, getting them laid, showing them Manhattan on a grand scale. He soon had the top Yemeni security director embracing him, calling him brother. He also had the U.S. Ambassador in Yemen demanding that John be removed from the country because she felt his persona was bigger than hers, that he was, in effect, overshadowing the diplomatic role of the State Department in the country. Her complaints, coupled with resentments within the bureau about John’s lifestyle, led to his being ordered back to the states. Yemeni officials cooled noticeably once O’Neill departed and the Cole defendants were never questioned by US agents after John was removed. Eventually, as the threat level on the Arabian peninsula rose, all of his agents had to be ordered home.

      The end of O’Neill’s career came when his car broke down on the New Jersey turnpike and he was with a girlfriend. He violated security procedures by having the car towed to an FBI facility where he obtained another road car. The woman’s presence at that facility resulted in an internal investigation. That and the fact that John once let a briefcase with classified documents out of his sight for twenty minutes at an FBI seminar on agency pension planning — the briefcase was untouched, but John dutifully reported himself for the lapse — was enough to force his retirement, much to his chagrin. He knew they were going to hit us and hard, and it killed him to no longer be at the point of the counterterroism spear. He looked for the most relevant post he could find in the private sector, becoming director of security for the World Trade Center.

      He was killed when the planes flew into the buildings. He got out of the second tower — we know because he called one of his girlfriends on his cellphone — but he went back in to rescue more people and the tower collapsed. After 911, the Yemenis — told of John’s death — invited the FBI back into their country and provided access to the prisoners O’Neill had been lobbying to interrogate. The prisoners knew the entire 911 plan, down to the names of every hijacker. This story was detailed by PBS Frontline under the title: “The Man Who Knew.”

      Everyone I’ve talked to in the FBI acknowledges that had John’s reputation as a profligate ladies man not accompanied him, he would have easily weathered the internal investigation of the security matters and continued as the head of counterterrorism. And his lobbying effort with the Yemenis would have continued as well. But Mr. Freeh and others equated John’s personal life with his professional endeavors and he was told to take the pension or risk termination.

      And yet, if all of the Americans killed in 911 and all of their families could speak to this dynamic, what do you think they would say? Yes, the price of greatness is responsibility and no sacrifice is too great, and no individual so unexpendable, that we must keep the head of counterterrorism doing his job. Fire his womanizing ass. Or, would they say, who gives a damn who this guy screws or why? He made the Cole case. He supervised the embassies investigation. He went to Pakistan to arrest the man who shot up the CIA headquarters in Langley. He’s the best we have in counterterrorism. Let him do his damn job. And while we’re at it, let Winston Churchill, the greatest wartime leader of the century, drink whatever the hell he wants in as much quantity as he can manage, as long as he continues to lead this country as he does.

      I don’t need rectitude from my leaders. I need competence. I need results. If you have someone better than Petraeus, then that’s one thing. If he’s the best at counterinsurgency, then he is not expendable at this time, when counterinsurgency and our response to it mean actual American lives in the balance.

      Reply
      • nothing to see here says:

        “I don’t need rectitude from my leaders. I need competence. I need results. If you have someone better than Petraeus, then that’s one thing. If he’s the best at counterinsurgency, then he is not expendable at this time, when counterinsurgency and our response to it means American lives.”

        Amen, and I’ll throw in a hallelujah.

        Reply
      • Carol Covin says:

        Lincoln’s famous retort to a general who complained about U.S. Grant’s drinking, along the lines of “If my other generals would fight like Grant, I’d buy them all liquor.” comes to mind, re: Churchill.

        Competence, Results first. Then, decide if indulging your private mores is worth sacrificing competence and results.

        Reply
    • jeff says:

      had he engaged in an erotic excess with his wife and been a terrible father, would he have been fired? extramarital sex remains a moral earthquake that shakes our focus so completely as to blind us. you have posed a marvelous rhetorical question. the current devotion to “politics” will never allow it to be answered honestly.

      Reply
  34. Max Kennerly says:

    The problem with this whole analysis is that Petraeus resigned. What would you have us do? Beg him to stay? He did something stupid, was caught, and so ran away from attention.

    In sharp contrast, Bill Clinton — someone you inexplicably say was knocked off the national stage, when of course he stayed on it, and is still there — stuck around, left office quite popular, and still uses his popularity as an asset to his party.

    What, really, do you want? The good old days where affairs were ignored? Do you find Petraeus’ affair, and his apparent compromising of national security, wholly unworthy of any attention?

    Reply
    • nothing to see here says:

      Yes. WHOLLY worthy of ignoring. I don’t care about his sex life (or yours or anyone else’s). As was pointed out in this post, m-a-n-y a great leader engaged in sexual dalliances. At one time in our history, those escapades were not considered news (or perhaps were considered to risque to publish, I don’t know and, again, I don’t care).

      For reasons of titillation, conspiracy fodder, political gain or moral self-righteousness, this story of a high-powered man’s fall from grace STILL trends at the top of the news cycle (now there’s a genuine cast of characters list!) while a soon-to-be evicted Spanish woman’s suicidal fall from her apartment window does not move us to consider today’s events in Europe to be of more concern. Ack.

      Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Of course he resigned. Look at the feeding frenzy.

      That doesn’t mean our self-reflection on that feeding frenzy isn’t a relevant point of discussion. After all, there will be many more situations like this one if this is always going to be our media culture.

      I didn’t say Clinton was knocked off the national stage. Never said any such thing. You are confused.

      And yes, I’d be happy to have us become more indifferent to the personal lives of public men. That is what I am arguing. I don’t think it bears any remote relationship to how they do their jobs. If there is a security breach that actually compromised American interests, that’s one thing. But give me something a little more substantial than the fact that his girlfriend, a West Point grad and his biographer, saw some classified documents. I was a reporter for a long time. I’ve held classified documents in my hand. The government of the United States will classify a laundry list and not give it a second thought, and then it will fail to unclassify it for sixty years. The classification standards are so overused as to mean nothing on a basic level. Was there a serious breach or not? You and I have no idea. And right now, this feeding frenzy isn’t about that, is it? Right now, it’s the Real Housewives and Generals of Tampa.

      Reply
    • DGN says:

      But how is it that he compromised national security? Unless I missed something in the story, the only thing that people are worried about is that either:

      1. He left himself open to blackmail. Which assumes that he would have allowed himself to be blackmailed instead of coming clean, which seems INCREDIBLY far-fetched.

      2. He could have accidentally told his lover(s) something classified or that compromised national security. What evidence is there that this was even a possibility?

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        I think you have it correct.

        Good thing the Taliban isn’t behind a honey trap involving Tampa socialites and military-trained biographers. We ducked a bullet there.

        As to classified documents, letting them out of your control is of course a violation of internal security. In reality, so much is unnecessarily classified by the government — and then remains classified long after the secrecy of its content is no longer relevant — that violation of some of the secret and top-secret classifications are, frankly, routine.

        As a reporter, I’ve received, in response to FOIA requests, FBI investigative files from the 1960s in which virtually every salient fact was blacked out. And every single participant in the case had been dead and buried for years. The government will classify a laundry list and then keep it classified into the next century, which is why nominally classified documents are often nonetheless shared. Hard to say what the woman had in her possession and whether it was truly sensitive material.

        Reply
        • Max Kennerly says:

          If it’s “hard to say” if national security was compromised, why the quick resignation? That’s the whole problem with your argument: if this isn’t a big deal, why did he resign? Just to avoid attention?

          Frankly, if you can’t take some scrutiny for a lapse in judgment that the entirety of society believes to be dishonest, you are indeed unfit for the position. He admits as much by resigning, much as Clinton denied as much by fighting it out.

          To me, the whole ordeal is similar to being caught drunk driving or engaging in petty theft. Is it a dereliction of your job’s duties? No. But it’s plainly a lapse in ethical and moral judgment, one for which you should be willing to account or, otherwise, resign. Clinton chose the former. Petraeus chose the latter.

          Your argument that we would have lost the great leaders of the past with these standards is, at best, counterfactual and speculative. Maybe we would have lost them; maybe they would have fought the scandals; maybe they would have conducted themselves better. Did you think our last Presidential election was marred by hopelessly unqualified candidates due to moral puritanism excluding the truly best candidates? I don’t.

          Reply
          • David Simon says:

            Why the quick resignation? Gee, I dunno.

            Are you utterly insensate to the media frenzy that this fella and his wife are now going through. Do you think it would be less if he tried to hold on to the CIA directorship? Or more? Do you think we as a country would be less distracted by this bullshit if General Petraeus remained on post? Or more? Are you really asking this question?

            Again, it is my contention that a significant plurality of adults have been sexually dishonest at some point in their lives. By your standard, they are all unfit for high government service. We know, historically, that this includes Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton among recent presidents. Others are known to have been unfaithful at points, but those are some of the great figures of the last century. Martin Luther King, too. You will recall that J. Edgar Hoover, moral troll that he was, tried to blackmail King out of leading perhaps the greatest moral crusade of the American century based on King’s sexual dishonesty. King resisted and the rest, as they say, is history.

            Sorry, your post stands in rank ignorance of the realities here.

            Reply
            • Max Kennerly says:

              My core problem with your argument is that, in fact, all those people stayed around, including Clinton, who stared right into the scandal and faced it down and who is still around. Your argument is that King was *almost* blackmailed by sexual dishonesty — except that he wasn’t. That Clinton was *almost* chased out of office by adultery — except that he wasn’t. And so on with your other examples.

              Petraeus potentially could have stayed on, too, but chose not to — your argument that he simply wussed out or that he took a bullet for his country is dubious given how career-driven and egotistical the man has been otherwise. I think he just decided to give up the ghost and coast off into a lucrative military-industrial complex consulting job.

              I suppose that’s a part of my analysis: the only “victim of scandal” we can find is Petraeus, and frankly I don’t consider him much a loss. He was more a bullshit artist than brilliant commander, as numerous military correspondents have reported at length. I’d be far more worried if, say, McRaven had been forced out.

              Down that same road, I think you’ve got a much better argument with John O’Neill than anyone else, given that he apparently truly was forced out, in part, due to his sexual habits. I’m of course unable to rebut or challenge any of your points there, but I do take your word on it and I do think it’s a fair example.

              Anyway, the real reason I returned to this post was to thank you for the time you took to respond. It’s refreshing to have a thoughtful conversation with a stranger on the internet. (FWIW, I only just realized who you are. I suppose that’s QED of my rank ignorance. ;-)

              Reply
  35. Jimmy D says:

    You are so eloquent. Why stoop to using the f-word? I’m not shocked or appalled. I still think you’re great. It’s just that I think the best writers, comedians, orators don’t need profanity.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Fuck it. It’s just a word.

      (I stoop to conquer.)

      Reply
      • Sten Ryason says:

        Reminds me of the old Redd Foxx joke: “I say fuck and shit, because people do. If you’ve never fucked – shit. If you’ve never shit – FUCK!”

        Reply
      • Rewrite says:

        Yes, it is a work, and it has its place (as was so masterfully demonstrated in the 4th episode Season 1 of ‘The Wire’).
        But it can also be used very poorly. I can’t imagine how it could be used effectively as anything other than a noun in an opinion piece that is meant to be persuasive. What does ‘Fuck this Tripe’ mean — it comes across to me as a rant from someone who is dismissing opposing viewpoints out of hand. But really, it just comes across as lazy writing.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Perhaps, because the entire essay is about rectitude and its overwrought place in American public life, my willful and flagrant use of profanity at certain points, along with my purposed disconnection and animation of genitalia from the rest of the human form (penises gamboling freely) — perhaps these choices are both being employed with more precision and purpose than you credit or understand. Perhaps my style of personal essay is simply not your style of personal essay, and the boundaries with which I am willing to communicate my argument are not your boundaries for effective communication.

          Or, perhaps, I am a lazy writer.

          Reply
    • Kevin Stevens says:

      Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Louis C.K. beg to differ.

      Reply
    • Matt says:

      Henry Drummond, the Clarence Darrow character in Inherit the Wind, has a response when someone calls him out for his vulgarities…. something like, “The English language is a poor enough medium of expression as it is. I figure we should use all the words we have.”

      Reply
  36. Les says:

    I do agree with your position that there is much hypocrisy in the coverage of General Petraeus’ affair and the critiques only serve to continue the childish mindset that permeates much of the discussion on any serious matter faced by modern society. Many in the public enjoy judging others for failing to live up to ideals they don’t follow themselves and we should start to call out this behaviour. I feel that General Petraeus was part of this system as well. Using his media influence to portray himself as the icon for honor and integrity in order to further his political aspirations, He set himself above the rest of society and their lack of discipline.

    Others have referenced Mchael Hastings and his opinion of Petraeus which I think speaks to the central theme of what has become of journalism. It’s disturbing to read that there are journalists writing about issues for which they are getting paid by third party organizations to promote. If you look at areas such as technology or finance reporting it’s rather rampant.

    I don’t think he quit to avoid the media storm though. I think he quit because the Obama Administration had no interest in defending him. Even appointing him as the C.I.A. Director could be viewed as their effort stilt his political aspirations. I think he then realized that a quick mea culpa could be the best path to recovery for a future political campaign. But that is nothing but my personal speculation.

    So much time is going to be wasted on an issue that has no substantial meaning for the country. All of it centered around a false puritanical belief that as you point out, isn’t followed by many of the reporters themselves.

    Reply
    • DGN says:

      I do think he did the right thing by resigning. Whether it SHOULD be the media story/distraction that it has become, it obviously was going to be, and the position is too important for those types of distractions.

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        Agree. It was inevitable, amid the feeding frenzy.

        Reply
        • Les says:

          It’s been so long since I have been able to participate in real debates that I have a tendency to get stuck in thoughts that aren’t representative of my position. A bad habit from getting swept up in shouting fests.

          Reply
  37. Theresa Stabo says:

    Related to what Sten said, Lewinski was a convenient distraction while Clinton screwed the entire nation with NAFTA and granting favored nation trading status to China. The Republicans were only too happy to keep the Nation’s attention focused on Bill’s penis and allow those trade deals to move along. It really is a shame that people distract themselves with matters that should be settled between spouses, families and their lawyers.

    Reply
    • Les says:

      I don’t see how NAFTA plays a role in your claims about the Lewinsky affair. NAFTA came into effect in 1994. The Lewisnsky scandal wasn’t until 1998. And China has its MFN status restored in 1980 and was subject to yearly renewals. All Clinton did was put forward the resolution to grant China a permanent normal trade relations status and that wasn’t until 2000. Long after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed.

      Reply
  38. DGN says:

    My favorite nonsensical argument coming out of all of this is that somehow his having an extramarital affair could have constituted a national security threat, not because of blackmail (which is ridiculous in and of itself) but because he might “accidentally have shared national security information”. As if the promise of some new pussy would lead him to forget he was the director of intelligence for the most powerful country in history and just start blurting out secrets left and right. And, by that logic, no person in possession of sensitive information should be allowed to date, even if unmarried. Why is the threat greater when it involves a married man? Is he somehow MORE likely to blurt out security information?

    Incredibly ridiculous.

    Reply
  39. Always Veering says:

    A couple of points tangential to your main point (which I wouldn’t dispute):

    Further to SEAMUS’s post, at least with respect to not being an admirer, methinks you protest too little in assuring us that you are “neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus”: “And David Petraeus saw and spoke to the folly of Iraq before the rest of America was cheering the fall of Saddam’s statue. And he stayed long after that folly was evident to work at a remedy for and an extrication from that folly.” Michael Hastings provides a counter-narrative of Petraeus as a “a world-class bullshit artist” and of Petraeus’ horrific “remedy”: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/the-sins-of-general-david-petraeus

    Second, having a same-sex eros but not a gay identity … I’m not sure, which one is unmitigable? … I don’t quite know where I fit in your human menagerie. Still, your untheorized insights into the hard realities of an essentialized human nature are, if often unpleasant, always interesting. (Who do you spend your time with? I think I would desperately be seeking other company.) The problem I have though is with the use of “Darwinian.” Desire is not Darwinian; it’s not instinctual. Only the speaking animal can desire and what s/he desires is inseparable from what s/he can say, is social and discursive. Psychic compulsion is better than Darwinian. I would argue that even casual references to Darwinian theories outside of their proper context of biological evolution is always a bad idea, especially when hard-headed utilitarians are on the loose.

    Reply
  40. Christopher Ryan says:

    Mr. Simon,
    I’m a huge fan of yours and also co-author of a book on the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality (Sex at Dawn), co-authored with my wife, an African psychiatrist. Would love to send you a signed copy—in blood, if you’d like. Lots of scientific evidence for why people—even generals—do what we do in terms of sexuality. Turns out, our sexual appetites are the very opposite of dirty and shameful. Our sexuality is naturally oriented toward establishing and maintaining trust with various people, so our ancestral societies could function smoothly. What’s shameful is a society that tries to shame us into thinking our sexual omnivorousness is somehow sick and a disqualification from admiration.

    Reply
    • Carsie Blanton says:

      Glad Chris Ryan plugged his book here because I was about to do the same. It’s a great book and certainly worth a read or two.

      To elaborate: the problem of media obsession with sexual infidelity is but one aspect of a larger, uglier, and more destructive problem. Societally we are obsessed with sexual fidelity as a measure of virtue, but as a species we are pretty terrible at it. Thus, our personal, professional and social lives are plagued by an inherent conflict – journalists don’t alleviate the problem but they aren’t responsible for it, either.

      Reply
  41. Seamus says:

    “Remember when Petraeus flirtatiously discussed how sexy it would be for the US to bomb Yemen & then blame it on Yemen?”-Jeremy Scahill

    Reply
  42. Duke says:

    While I agree that the sex portion of this story is unimportant. I am shocked by the portions of the story going unreported. https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/13-2 If these guys aren’t immune to warrantless wiretapping who is?

    Reply
  43. Sten Ryason says:

    I look at this article, and your dissection of the state of journalism, and I find myself nodding quite a bit. I’m sure you found it both amusing and heartbreaking that the ombudsman of the New York Times felt it necessary to ask whether or not journalists should challenge politicians when the journalist knows they’re lying – well, duh!

    We concern ourselves with the sex lives of the famous, rather than the whole lives of everyone. We have debased ourselves as a culture over the last thirty years, when it becomes difficult to see good stories about the reality of America on regular TV (not that I’m knocking your work being played out on HBO – if that’s where you have to go, go there, by all means, the work itself is phenomenal). Instead we are fed a daily diet of ridiculous “reality” TV, where the History channel only shows the most sensational crap they can, the SciFi channel has to change it’s name (because people are having trouble pronouncing it?), and where even educational channels are showing Ghost Finder-type shows.

    I always thought that the great “crime” of Bill Clinton’s presidency was not Ms. Lewinsky, or even Clinton’s foolish lies to a grand jury – it was NAFTA. Or that a journalist could have proof of George Bush’s mendacity about his service in Viet Nam, and that could proof become a millstone around Dan Rather’s neck. Not that I have much grief for the loss of Dan Rather, though I think he’s trying to rebrand himself as some kind of elder statesmen of the loss of journalism.

    Bread and circuses…

    Reply
  44. Mighty Casey says:

    Every time there’s a public outing of a stray penis, the ghost of one of our Puritan forebears gets a new hair-shirt. We tear up the bread, we cry loud and long for bigger and brighter circuses, and when we get ‘em, we eat the performers alive.

    A good friend, who is a former WaPo writer, has often said that a central feature of power is that it pulls in major pussy. Which is certainly true when the power holder is of the dude persuasion. It’s a pretty elemental part of human nature, and sexuality: the alpha will always attract more mates than the deltas do.

    I’m sorry that Petraeus wound up falling on his sword for something that powerful men, particularly generals, have been doing since … forever. We’ve lost a terrific, smart, thoughtful leader, at least for now. And we needed that sumbitch.

    Reply
  45. Katie says:

    Mr. Simon,

    I have been thinking about our vast immaturity, and our insatiable appetite for meaningless information that makes us feel morally superior. We went from the often irritating horse race of an election straight into the smut of our politicians. I think we just love to see our heroes fall. I came of age during the early years of the Clinton presidency and people often stared at me in disbelief when I told them I couldn’t care less if he got a blow job in the Oval Office. I was disgusted by how many of our resources went to prosecuting this. If Bush could have had an intern instead of a war, I’d be all for it. Would I like it if our leaders were perfect? Of course. But it’s certainly not necessary. I agree journalism is in trouble, but in part that’s because we consumers lap this shit up. Meanwhile, in other news, car bombs kill innocent people around the world, Greece is nursing a new Nazi party, Afghanistan is turning out the heroin, and Uganda is planning to pass a bill by the end of the year that makes it legal to kill gay people. Not to mention our very real problems of poverty, hunger, debt, and unemployment. But hey, let’s not think about that.. let’s look down our nose on the sex guys.

    Katie Ford Hall

    Reply
  46. Kristin says:

    This particular scandal aside, it saddens me that you would write-off all sexual escapades as un-newsworthy. When someone in a powerful public position is using that power to coerce people under them into a sexual relationship, that seems not only wrong but also worthy of public judgement.

    Reply
    • Bren says:

      Kristin, your comment either boils down to “I think all affairs are actually rapes” or “David Simon said he doesn’t care about rape.” Both are pretty obviously silly, and your comment just another rationalization for obsessing over the actions of two CONSENTING adults that you don’t even know.

      Reply
      • Kristin says:

        I must not have made the comment as clear as I intended. By starting off with “This particular scandal aside” I was intending to relate that obviously this was a very consensual affair. But David starts off his post, his very first line, his thesis for the paper with “I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency.” And my point is that sometimes, even often, stories about powerful people’s sex lives are stories of taking advantage of that power. And thus it seems childish to vow never to cover any sex story ever.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          We’re not talking about allegations sexual harassment in this situation. Nor are there minors involved. Nor is it a politically notable case in which a public figure is on record arguing for certain moral standards which he is then discovered to have violated. Such instances do indeed present ancilliary issues that are relevant to public consideration.

          But here? Nope.

          If there was a security breach, that might be relevant to this case. And maybe that will prove to be the case. But right now, it doesn’t seem so. And I say that as a former reporter who holds the classification of documents by the government in extremely low regard. The government — and especially the Defense Department and intelligence community — classifies virtually everything whether it is sensitive or not, and then endeavors to keep it all secret for decades. Secrets classification is, in practice, so overused as to be almost ireelevant and in practice, classified material is routinely shared all the time. If this woman had genuine and sensitive secrets that would be notable; documents that happen to be stamped as classified, not so much. I had government officials hand me some of those in the hope that they would help me publish news articles.

          Reply
  47. the ghost of leonard tose says:

    god it must really suck to be perfect

    Reply
  48. Jesse M says:

    Ever read the graphic novel The Nightly News? Interesting stuff, the story of a sort of murderous biblical purging of the mainstream news establishment. “Mature” isn’t the word I would use for it, but it’s well-crafted, and unique in its view of contemporary mainstream journalism as a cancer on society.

    Reply
  49. Kevin Stevens says:

    “akimbo”?

    Haven’t seen that word in print in a long time.

    Reply
  50. jar says:

    you had me at stray penises

    Reply
  51. David Madrid says:

    You missed the point: corruption. And, you got the point: the Fourth Estate is dead.

    Reply
  52. David Simon says:

    Honestly, as someone who was a fulltime reporter for the first half of his career, I can look at the Petraeus affair and say with certainty that your standards for corruption are not my own. I’m interested in the systemic, not the keyhole peeping.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. [...] is a messy part of human life. In Politics and media it seems to multiply. Great article by David Simon (and its follow-up) on the hipocrisy of news media dealing with political sexual scandals [...]

  2. [...] uit Baltimore die onder meer het brein is achter series als The Wire, Generation Kill en Treme, doet een duit in het zakje over de hele Petraeus-affaire. En journalisten die over de overspelige generaal schrijven komen er niet al te goed vanaf. [...]

  3. [...] Couldn’t have said it better myself. Be Sociable, Share! Tweet Published: November 25, 2012 Filed Under: politics Tags: media : news : Sex Leave a Comment Name: Required [...]

  4. [...] David Simon, former journalist and the man behind many TV shows you might love like The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Treme, says the media’s handling of the Petraeus scandal shows it’s lost its way. (The Audacity of Dispair) [...]

  5. [...] Simon has one of the best commentaries on the Petraeus affair you will ever read, low bar that might be. His argument is straightforward [...]

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  7. [...] the media stop covering sex scandals? Some interesting thoughts from David Simon, who has had enough. Profanity warning, I [...]

  8. [...] Daring Fireball, une vision rationnelle sur le scandale Petraeus (le patron de la CIA qui avait une maîtresse trop bavarde) et plus [...]

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  11. [...] making the media swarm pretty predictable. Screenwriter and former reporter David Simon derided the futility and hypocrisy of journalists’ preoccupation with others’ sex lives…Reuters’ Jack Shafer, on the other [...]

  12. [...] making the media swarm pretty predictable. Screenwriter and former reporter David Simon derided the futility and hypocrisy of journalists’ preoccupation with others’ sex lives, concluding that “when [...]

  13. [...] I was wondering why people quite their jobs after having an affair. This morning I just read an excellent piece by David Simon (via Jon Gruber) which so nicely calls out our country’s hypocrisy on the [...]

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  15. [...] to this quite excellent (albeit quite unsafe for work due to language) piece by David Simon on this absolutely ridiculous Gen. David Petraeus “scandal,” with an equally excellent followup about an FBI agent named John O’Neill. Even if [...]

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  21. [...]  David Simon (writer of, among other things, the Wire) I’m neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus.  But I am most definitely a detractor of what journalism has become in this country, of what passes for the qualitative analysis of our society and its problems.  And I’ve paid enough attention to the human condition to no longer take seriously the notion that anyone who lets penis or vagina rub against the wrong person, who is indiscreet in doing so, and who then tells the truth about it when confronted by an FBI agent is unfit for either citizenship or public service. [...]

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  25. [...] Simon, creator of The Wire, breaks it down: Hypocrisy will never go out of style in American journalism or American life. But sitting there [...]

  26. [...] at Flavorpill, we read David Simon’s take on the Petraeus scandal, as well as some of the former CIA director’s love poems. We learned [...]

  27. [...] *      *      * HENLEYTX11 says:(Edit) November 14, 2012 at 8:04 am [...]

  28. [...] Original post:  David Simon | Stray penises and politicos [...]

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