Bad Boy Generals and the Reporters Who Love Them

The Mysterious Tango Between a News Spinner and Those He Spins

The latest spin from the Petraeus camp is that the affair with Paula Broadwell began two months after he became CIA director in (timing its start around November 2011) and ended four months ago (July 2012.) This according to Ret. Col. Steve Boylan, a friend and former spokesman who appeared Monday on NBC's Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America to say Petraeus told him those details in extended conversations over the weekend.

Twelve hours later Boylan was on CNN telling Anderson Cooper the same talking points. No one challenged Boylan or even asked if the general would be willing to testify about the timeline under oath.

When did they go "All In"? The wrong answer could lead to a court-martial.

For all the embarrassing details that have surfaced so far, earlier reports at least marked his appointment as CIA chief as the end of his extramarital affair, showing somewhat a more sober frame of mind. So why would he send Steve Boylan out with a story to specifically refute that point?

I don't suspect it's all about Article 134, which covers the crime of committing adultery under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) The penalty? Court martial, dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pension, even confinement.

At the risk of sounding preachy, the latest four-star scandals should serve as a warning to journalists who have covered military and national security beats, along with their editors, anchors and producers. (George Stephanopolous did ask if the affair began in while working on the book in Afghanistan; Boylan denied it.)

Has Petraeus been controlling his press image for decades as telegraphed in his Princeton dissertationyears ago? "'Perception' is key, he wrote: 'What policymakers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters -- more than what actually occurred.'"

Has he been quietly abusing power, unchecked until now -- allegedly taking a girlfriend on a private military jet for his round-the-world "goodbye tour," then reportedly traveling with rock-star-worthy entourages that includes a CIA assistant assigned to provide fresh water and pineapple on his morning runs? It's a tough balancing act, but isn't it time beat reporters dig deeper, take off the kid gloves that have protected their access at the expense of what we need to know.

Military Sex Scandals Are Not Okay

After hearing the evidence against a Brig. Gen. in a hearing that ended last week, a military judge in Ft. Bragg, N.C. is currently deciding whether or not to bring trial Jeffrey Sinclair who is charged with multiple counts of adultery and other UCMJ violations involving sexual misconduct. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan where his last assignment was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division before being abruptly relieved of duty in May. The criminal probe involves four female military subordinates and one civilian. If the case goes to trial, Sinclair could face life in prison.

Can Petraeus, a Retired General, Be Punished Under UCMJ?

When Petraeus became head of the CIA, he officially retired from the military entitled to the annual pension awarded four-star generals: around $200,000. Given his relatively young retirement age of 60, a cut in that pension could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You see, military retirees are subject to the UCMJ. There is the legal possibility that he could be reactivated and charged under the UCMJ.

A legal precedent might be the 1998 case of retired Maj. Gen. David Hale who was the first retired army general to be court-martialed, charged with 17 counts of lying, conduct unbecoming an officer, making false statements and conducting adulterous relationships with the wives of several subordinate officers.

Hale, then 53, was a West Point graduate with sterling combat record that included a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Soldier's Medal for Heroism. He was awarded a Silver Star for an act of courage during the war in Vietnam after he picked up a live enemy grenade and flung it from a foxhole during a firefight.

When Hale took the witness stand in his own defense, he choked up as he described how he "sank into a moral abyss as his marriage of 29 years fell apart in 1996 and 1997." During that time, he said, he turned to the wives of his subordinate officers for comfort -- eventually having improper sexual relations with at least three of them. (There was also an adulterous affair with a civilian.)

At first, he was allowed to retire in the middle of the army's criminal investigation which centered on the allegations that, as commanding NATO general in Southern Europe based in Izmir, Turkey, Hale coerced a woman into a sexual relationship by threatening to undermine the career of her husband, a lieutenant colonel on his staff. When first charged with sexual misconduct, Hale sued the woman, Donnamaria Carpino, for defamation of character and accused her of stalking. The details were damning as were reports that Carpino's husband was flown from Turkey to Landstuhl, Germany on the general's personal aircraft for an involuntary mental health evaluation.

Army prosecutor Maj. Michael Mulligan called the highly decorated Hale "a moral coward" and asked that he be sentenced to an unspecified prison term, have his pension cut permanently, that he be fined an amount equal to the cost of the Department of Defense investigation into his philandering -- over $125,000.

In the end, Hale negotiated a plea agreement and was given an official reprimand, fined $10,000 and had his $6,312-a-month pension docked by $1,000 a month for a year. (A short while after the court-martial, Hale married the wife of a major who worked for him in Turkey.)

Will Petraeus Be Punished by the Military?

Probably not, unless there's new evidence of compromising national security. The FBI has said it did not find any in their investigation.

Courts martial for adultery are very rare among of high-ranking officers.

  • In 1999 (two-star) Maj. Gen. John Maher, vice director of operation for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was "demoted ... to colonel and fined a month's pay, $8,632, for engaging in improper sexual relationships with the wives of two officers under his command over a seven-year period. The demotion equalled a loss of $975,000 in retirement benefits."
  • That same year, a" two-star admiral in charge of the Navy's air forces in the Mediterranean," Rear Adm. Paul (Scott) Semko, "was formally relieved of his duties after an investigation found that he an adulterous affair with a civilian and then lied about it to investigators. He received a punitive letter of reprimand for ''conduct unbecoming an officer.''
  • In 1998, the Navy declined to court-martial Rear Adm. John Scudi who had steered $150,000 in government contracts to a civilian woman with whom he had an adulterous affair. Instead, he was demoted to the rank of captain, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential retirement benefits.
  • "In 1995 Rear Adm. Ralph Tindal was found guilty in a noncriminal Navy inquiry of being involved in year-long affair with an enlisted aide and received the same punishment as Adm. Scudi."

Will Broadwell Be Punished?

Well, she's had her security clearance revoked as a member of the Army Reserve -- her bio says she was recalled three times to active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks to work on counterterrorism issues and intended to return to active duty or get into the policy world. Theoretically Broadwell could be recalled to active duty along with Petraeus and charged with Article 134. If so, it is likely she will be portrayed not as ambitious, hopelessly in love or as one who morally stumbled in the distant and dizzying foreign outposts of war, but as someone who is "nutty," "self-promoting" and "obsessed" with a man who could not disentangle himself.

After reporting Gen. Sinclair to his military boss, the female captain at the heart of the case had her security clearance suspended, was relieved of her duties and referred for a mental health assessment. In the evidentiary hearing, she was portrayed by his defense lawyers as "crazy," "volatile" and "back-stabbing" after she testified she he forced her to have oral sex and threatened to kill her when she tried to end the relationship.

I suspect Paula Broadwell will continue to be punished in the media, said to be crazy, vengeful, a cross between the obsessed Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and ruthless Rielle Hunter. I also suspect she is. Then again, she appears to be best qualified to look after herself, not to mention she is also ripe for a second, and more lucrative biography, ( All For Nothin'?) to set the record straight, or at least to tell her side.

The more painful truth lies with the military women who are punished for adultery even when the violation of UCMJ Article 134 is not consensual, but involves a superior officer's coercion, blackmail or death threats as has been alleged the of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair now awaiting a decision whether or not he will face a court-martial at Fort Bragg.

Which brings us back to Ret. Col. Steve Boylan and the selective details he shared from morning 'til night regarding the timeline of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair. If their dirty laundry is aired under oath, forced by a military hearing, there's a lot more at stake than a the loss of a star, a cut in a retirement pension.

The CIA is now investigating David Petraeus in many areas, including abuse of office perks (i.e. using government planes and vehicles for private use.) Throughout history, financial wrongdoing trumps moral stumblings in determining a return from such a public fall from grace. Leon Panetta gets it. Just this week he ordered William Ward, a former four-star general who led U.S. Africa Command, to repay $82,000 for extravagant and unauthorized trips he took with his wife.

Of course. there's the rest of Pandora's box that Broadwell opened with her single spiteful e-mail that's now ensnared Gen. John Allen and his "special friend," Jill Kelley. The so-called Tampa socialite reportedly convinced both high-ranking generals to officially intervene in her twin sister's custody battle and invoked some sort of diplomatic protection on a 911 call about the media on her lawn.

How Far Will the Collateral Damage Reach?

It will get messier. More careers will be destroyed. Spouses and children will get hurt. There will be a flurry of house cleaning and ethics reviews. But in the end, regardless of the tragic and personal consequences, we should all feel better that some sunshine has been brought to the reporting of those running the war we can't win and no one wants. After all, how many men and women who have endured such long and multiple deployments have been broken in many ways as well.

Shelley Ross is author of "Fall From Grace: the History of Sex, Scandal and Corruption in American Politics 1702 to the Present"

This blog was originally posted onShelley Ross' daily Xpress