NYT Kisses David Petraeus’ Boo Boos To Make Them Better

I’m going to spoil this blowjob masquerading as profile for you. Here are the last three sentences of Scott Shane’s 1,500 word “news” piece on how David Petraeus’ image has taken a hit because his agency 1) missed that the militias we’re partnering with in Libya were trying to kill us 2) gave poor intelligence that made the Administration look bad 3) asked for drones in response to this massive HUMINT failure.

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

So in the interest of rehabilitating Petraeus’ image so he can run for President of Princeton or America, Shane explains,

  • Petraeus’ “deliberately low profile” is what created the void that in turn created the media firestorm, not the CIA failures themselves
  • Petraeus “abruptly abandoned” his media star role when he became Director of the CIA
  • Petraeus’ trip to Turkey to consult on Syria–which was covered by the press–“went all but unnoticed by the news media” (no word on whether Petraeus is responsible for a suspect in the Libya attack expecting he could use Turkey as a gateway to join jihadists in Syria)

In short, the whole thing seems designed to prove that Petraeus hasn’t been the media hog his aides proved him to be yesterday (Shane points out Petraeus was out of the country when his aides orchestrated this media blitz) … in a profile about his image in the Paper of Record.

And nowhere does Shane, a national security reporter by trade, deal with whether the underlying issues–the HUMINT failures and the problematic response–themselves constitute failures. This is a report about image, completely ignoring that underneath that image there are real questions of performance that should be what drives the image, not fluff pieces in the NYT.

David Petraeus cannot fail, you see. He can only have his image failed by his own silence.

And to top off the substanceless image, all this is peppered with quotes from–among others–Michael O’Hanlon, described as a friend and an advisor.

“He thinks he has to be very discreet and let others in the government do the talking,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution scholar who is a friend of Mr. Petraeus’s and a member of the C.I.A.’s advisory board.

[snip]

Whatever the challenges of his first year, said Mr. O’Hanlon, his friend, “I’m confident in saying that he loves this job.”

“He may miss the military at an emotional level,” he added, “but he loves this work.”

Wait! David Petraeus has appointed “his friend” Michael O’Hanlon to advise him about “Intelligence”? And Shane now turns to “his friend” to … what? Reassure Americans David Petraeus loves his job even if four people are dead and we have gaping holes in HUMINT?

We are a democracy. Citizens should expect that our news media report facts so we can assess the performance of those who wield tremendous power in our name. Maybe Petraeus failed. Maybe he did not. But that is the question before us. Not whether Benghazi makes it less likely he’ll be President of Princeton one day.

It is not, however, the role of our news media to kiss top officials’ boo boos publicly when they’ve experienced setbacks.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. Batocchio says:

    To be fair, if the goal is to avoid talking about facts, O’Hanlon’s a great pick. Plus, he knows all about horrible tragedies, such as the senseless loss of reputations in Iraq. Haven’t O’Hanlon and Petraeus suffered enough?

  2. Ken Hardy says:

    I know this will come across as rank arm chair quarterbacking, so I apologize in advance. However, considering that these days all of North Africa is just stinking with CIA and SOF (who were on the ground in Libya even before NATO officially stepped in), that they couldn’t get it together to save the lives of any of these people just doesn’t pass the smell test.

    I read reports that sending a force originating FROM FORT BRAGG was their idea of rapid response and that even the “local” personnel that were being marshalled were being routed through Italy.

    Then again, it sounds like poor Amb. Stevens was completely extraneous to the real work going on there–wouldn’t be surprised if the reaction was so slow in getting going because they were all asking, “Who is this Stevens guy and why are we sticking our necks out for him? Don’t remember him from The Farm/SERE”.

    GOD FORBID we should actually put our faith and resources in the kind of open diplomacy in which Stevens was engaged–the work for which he died–when we can do all the fun secret stuff that cultivates suspicion and distrust EVEN AMONG OUR OWN PEOPLE. Cloak and dagger much better–accountability is YUCKY! When you fuck up and a US Ambassador dies on your watch it’s so much fun to be in the shadows and watch who gets thrown under the bus!

    Seriously, though, something just stinks here. For instance, was that drone the CIA co-opted used to track the militants as they escaped? Also why did the group from Tripoli have to rely upon GPS to figure out where the CIA safe house was….oh, yeah, I forgot IT WAS A SECRET! Also this entire story is riddled with instances where X did not go where it should have gone because they could not be certain about “security” E.g. the Tripoli group decided they should go to the hospital where they thought Stevens had been taken but didn’t want to because they weren’t certain it was secure. Well, no shit, guys! The consulate has been attacked and the Ambassador killed, the security ship had sailed, fellows. (Gee, too bad the grunts that stormed Normandy didn’t wait until they felt secure before hitting the beach.)

    And this business of the FBI being afraid for the past six weeks to even go to the compound is BS. Jesus, put them in kevlar burquas and have a frigging Panzer division escort them if you have to, but somebody tell those pussies to do their freaking jobs!

  3. Bustednuckles says:

    I can’t even remember the last time I saw a newscast that wasn’t at least half full of bullshit fluff pieces, even during the Sandy coverage, with all it’s newsworthy destruction, they had to put in a piece about some stupid woman trying to save some ducklings from drowning.
    I try to read at least two newspapers a day and that is just self abuse at this point. I don’t know why I even bother anymore, they all use the same sources and the same articles.

    Trying to stay informed in this day and age is a lesson in futility and the PTB like it that way.

    When David Fucking Brooks is taken as a serious voice by millions of people in this country you know the dumbing down is working.

  4. joanneleon says:

    Interesting. The Mighty Wurlitzer plays on. It’s a good opportunity to isolate this story and figure out who is who in the media.

    I wonder if, after the election, some coherent story will come together on this. At that point the cover up will not be so vitally important to a certain political campaign.

  5. DonS says:

    Yes, well, the whole business about the US holding off on getting to the compound to investigate doesn’t pass the smell test. Isn’t this the president who said — and actually acted on it — that he wouldn’t hesitate to invade the sovereign territory of Pakistan for whatever reason he deemed good? But of course Libya is so much more powerful and precious, and the pres does have a stake in continuing to pretend that all this Arab spring democratization is a great big wet kiss for the US — especially our wonderful bloodless-for-Americans (until now) intervention in Libya. Not

    ————-

    Back to the subject at hand: protecting, polishing and preserving the Petraeus patina. I’m going to save and forward this post to any of my near and dear ones who need to have the scales fall from their eyes. Not that they will actually care, or that the scales will actually fall. Deconstructing the personality charade that passes for news reporting seems to be a selective interest for many that corresponds only when they want to denigrate the other teams idol, not a full time de-clothing of all these tin horn would-be emperors.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    Petraeus’s transition to media pundit is maybe three months from complete.

    President Obama pushed Petraeus into specific performance objectives in Afghanistan to go along with the requested surge. Instead, McChrystal begged for more resources and delivered few results–and then tried to go around the President to the media–and effectively got cashiered. Petraeus was demoted to go finish what his underling failed to do, and no doubt took the lesson of not trying to use the media against the President in order to gain resources without results.

    So Petraeus fails to deliver the results and no doubt blames it on poor intelligence and cooperation from the CIA. President Obama tells him “Great, why don’t we have you fix that at CIA.” Another opportunity to get results–and Petraeus blows it again because either he or his shop can’t avoid playing partisan politics. In addition he fails to get the results in Benghazi.

    It’s time to call him a loser and a failure, give him his retirement, his golf clubs, and send him to hang out with Tony Cordesman.

  7. 4jkb4ia says:

    That really was a terrible story. I absolutely cannot come up with any new information in it except the management style quote.

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