The Fourth Estate And The Canonization Of General Petraeus

Read the mea culpa of Spencer Ackerman, as he takes a courageous look at how he and so many others in the Fourth Estate were drawn into the Cult Of Petraeus.

 Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus. Yes, Paula Broadwell wrote the ultimate Petraeus hagiography, the now-unfortunately titled All In. But she was hardly alone. (Except maybe for the sleeping-with-Petraeus part.) The biggest irony surrounding Petraeus’ unexpected downfall is that he became a casualty of the very publicity machine he cultivated to portray him as superhuman. I have some insight into how that machine worked.

Read the whole thing.  Spencer could have just pretended it all never happened and kept on keeping on doing the same old thing with other public figures, like so many others are going to do. Instead he wrote this piece, so I’ll give him kudos for that. Petraeus was masterful at massaging the media’s message, and surrounded himself with a team of equally accomplished media managers. Five years ago, or thereabouts, I told Spencer he had “lost his punk” in that he was too ready to believe the Petraeus camp’s spin – mostly because they were simply so good at it and Spencer wasn’t experienced at the time in getting that level of attention from national figures, but also partly because what they were feeding to him was very good for his career – and we fell out, having been pretty good blogging buddies up until then. On occasion, things have gotten pretty acrimonious since then, but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones if he is.

2 comments to The Fourth Estate And The Canonization Of General Petraeus

  • JustPlainDave

    The short form of all of this is that when journalists and other near-real time commentators focus on the personality and attributes of the commander, for good or ill, it’s a critical mistake. Warfare is not a personal interest story, and generals are not celebrities (or super-villains), no matter how easy that is for outsiders to write.

  • Raja

    The Sins Of General David Petraeus

    Petraeus seduced America. We should never have trusted him.

    BuzzFeed, Michael Hastings, November 11

    The fraud that General David Petraeus perpetrated on America started many years before the general seduced Paula Broadwell, a lower-ranking officer 20 years his junior, after meeting her on a campus visit to Harvard.

    More so than any other leading military figure, Petraeus’ entire philosophy has been based on hiding the truth, on deception, on building a false image. “Perception” is key, he wrote in his 1987 Princeton dissertation: “What policymakers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters — more than what actually occurred.”

    Yes, it’s not what actually happens that matters — it’s what you can convince the public it thinks happened.

    Until this weekend, Petraeus had been incredibly successful in making the public think he was a man of great integrity and honor, among other things. Most of the stories written about him fall under what we hacks in the media like to call “a blow job.” Vanity Fair. The New Yorker. The New York Times. The Washington Post. Time. Newsweek. In total, all the profiles, stage-managed and controlled by the Pentagon’s multimillion dollar public relations apparatus, built up an unrealistic and superhuman myth around the general that, in the end, did not do Petraeus or the public any favors. Ironically, despite all the media fellating, our esteemed and sex-obsessed press somehow missed the actual blow job.

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