Why It’s Not Fair That Paula Broadwell Could Lose Her Career After Petraeus Affair

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.


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    • Lastango

      Perhaps the career impact depends on what she and others think her career actually is.

      As a celebrity and self-promoting journalist, she’s gotten a huge boost. I’d be stunned if the advance on her upcoming tell-all book is less that $10 million. Her agent’s phone must be ringing off the hook with offer-making bidders.


      As a serious analyst, she’s definately undermined. Not only does she come off as just another silly powergroupie drawn to the biggest Alpha Male she could connive access to, but this episode raises the possiblity her work is unreliable and unscholarly because it is compromised by bias.

      That might not matter, though. If the media/entertainment establishment can make enough money off of her, they will gin up a parade of bought-and-paid-for “experts” to constantly assert Broadwell is a leading thinker and military affairs professional.

    • fig

      I agree – when I saw Broadwell on the Daily Show, I had an honest to god girl crush. What an awesome person! And those arms!
      But here are my issues with your article: her military career was based on discretion (Black ops and intelligence). Well, she blew that with the affair. Her writing career was based on her ability to get amazing access to a respected figure, which, now no man with a a spouse will allow her, and no publisher will question.
      So she kinda blew it. Plus, it turns out she’s kind of unlikeable (what with the threatening anonymous emails to another woman), which killed my girl-crush. I really don’t want to read her opinion on things – I don’t trust her judgement anymore.
      The real tragedy here isn’t that the affair will cost her her career, it’s that she made so many bad choices and blew it for herself.

    • AnotherSimpleMan

      I think all the classified documents she improperly took home with her may undermine your article a bit.

    • dcatobos

      Any sympathy I might have felt for her went out the window when she sent threatening emails to another woman because she thought that other woman might be having an affair too. I’m sure her intent wasn’t for those emails to expose the whole thing but ultimately thats what happened. If she hadn’t sent those emails we might not be hearing about this at all.