General David Petraeus, one of the most respected members of the military, beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike, resigned as director of the CIA on Friday, admitting that he’d had an affair. The other woman, as we all know now, was Paula Broadwell. Before last week, Broadwell was a distinguished military scholar, with a Master’s from Harvard and experience in counterintelligence. Now she’s being painted as nothing more than an aggressively sexy acolyte. Petraeus has lost his job, but Broadwell may lose her career, and that’s a shame.
Broadwell got to know the general while working on a flattering biography of him called “All In.” (If that book title doesn’t make you snicker, you’re a better person than I am.) It’s been dismissed as overly positive, which in retrospect makes sense. She’s fit, gorgeous, and idolized Petraeus, if reviews of her book and her appearance on the Daily Show earlier this year is any indication. (Jon Stewart: “I would say the real controversy here is, is he awesome or incredibly awesome?”) She’s significantly younger than the 60-year-old general—in fact, she turned 40 Friday, which puts her in the running for worst milestone birthday of all time.
So in some ways Broadwell fits the Fatal Attraction mold of the sexy temptress. But she’s no bimbo. She is an incredibly ambitious, accomplished woman who had built a truly impressive career. She was a high school valedictorian and homecoming queen in North Dakota, and ranked no. 1 in fitness in her class when she graduated from West Point. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and was working on a PhD in the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London. She’s an iron-man triathlete, and beat Stewart in a pushup contest during that Daily Show appearance.
Some armchair quarterbacks have been dismissive of her qualifications to write the biography of Petraeus. “Her credentials didn’t add up,” one former staff member sniffed to the Washington Post. “I was underwhelmed. It was surprising to me that she was his official biographer.” Other aides told the paper that her tight shirts and pants drew complaints in Afghanistan, where most westerners dress more modestly to defer to local custom.
Captain Anonymous may have been underwhelmed, but there’s no doubt that Broadwell is an impressive woman. But it’s unclear where her career will go from here. She was never a traditional journalist, and it’s unlikely she’d be hired to write another biography. Will her academic career suffer? Even if she’s able to move forward professionally, will her name be a one-note punchline for the rest of her life? When that happened to Monica Lewinsky, it was crappy but understandable — as a young intern, Lewinsky hadn’t done much to make her name known in any other capacity. But in Broadwell’s case, it feels particularly unjust.
In the meantime, she may at least get some extra book sales out of it. The Amazon ranking of All In rocketed from 76,792 to 102 after the scandal broke. Penguin has moved up the publication date for All In, saying it will now be available on November 21.