The Daily Princetonian’s Unseemly Affair with David Petraeus

Yesterday the critic Glenn Greenwald published an excellent column describing the meretricious dynamic — recently thrust to the fore by the sudden resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus — between the American military and the individuals paid to report on it:

The military is by far the most respected and beloved institution among the US population — a dangerous fact in any democracy — and, even assuming they wanted to (which they don’t), our brave denizens of establishment journalism are petrified of running afoul of that kind of popular sentiment.

While Greenwald calls out several TV anchors for emoting, he misses one of “establishment journalism”‘s worst offenders: The Daily Princetonian.

Six weeks ago, in a 3,000-word story, the paper reported rumors that Petraeus was seeking Princeton’s presidency. (He’s an alum of the Graduate School.) A representative passage (bolding ours):

Other classmates of Petraeus described him as serious, intense and hardworking, which some said was necessary because of his desire to acquire a doctoral degree on a compressed schedule. Yet despite this indefatigable commitment to his academics, he still maintained a separate commitment that he would never cheat on: physical exercise. Petraeus ran competitively at the time and would always find time to fit a lengthy run into his schedule, classmates said.

Fast-forward to Friday. Within hours of Petraeus’s resignation, the Prince reported that, during interviews conducted for the article quoted above, Paula Broadwell’s relationship with Petraeus seemed sort of vague: 

For a story in The Daily Princetonian in September, Broadwell’s response to interview inquiries hinted at an undefined and unclear relationship between her and Petraeus, who presumably was solely her biography subject.

After asking for and receiving advanced questions for an interview with her, Broadwell first acted a spokesman for Petraeus. [...]

Even once the ‘Prince’ clarified that it sought independent comment from Broadwell herself as an author – rather than asking her to speak for Petraeus as a spokesman, because the ‘Prince’ had already contacted the CIA press office – Broadwell emailed responses that suggested that she had been in touch with him.

It’s a weird combination — for the Prince, at least — of breathless reporting and unsubtle insinuation. Nonetheless it continues the work of the September story. Here is a transparent effort to discredit Broadwell in order to safeguard the reputation of David Petraeus, who until very recently was among the most powerful individuals in the entire world. In the context of the paper’s syrupy profile of the same man, this is pretty ridiculous. Also: despicable.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the Prince — much like other Ivy papers — feeds on power. But the Prince is interested, it seems, in something more: protecting authority, all authority, in order to further flatter it.

  • rick131

    Typical Princeton arrogance.

  • Princetonian

    I legitimately don’t understand how you took the Prince’s piece on Broadwell’s “unclear relationship” and say that it is a “transparent effort to discredit Broadwell in order to safeguard the reputation of David Petraeus.” The link from the evidence to your conclusion is totally missing from your analysis. I assume this is because there is no legitimate link.

    Classic Ivygate, always looking for “ridiculous” and “despicable” but finding neither.

    • http://ivygateblog.com/ J.K. Trotter

      Zing! Anyway, my argument is that the Broadwell piece has a specific subtext, which is that Broadwell is not to be trusted, because that would look a lot better for Petraeus, whom the Prince has a clear history of adulating at length, and who (obviously) is — and probably remains — far more powerful than Broadwell.

      • The Fourth Estate

        J.K.,

        I think that you are completely missing the point that the Prince is trying to make in its article after Petraeus’ resignation.

        The Prince is not trying to discredit Broadwell or insinuate that she is not to be trusted. More importantly, the Prince is not trying to make Petraeus “look better” as you accuse.

        The Prince reported that, when it asked Broadwell for independent commentary about Petraeus, she replied only after communicating with Petraeus and presumably obtaining his approval for her comments. The editors then made it clear to her that the Prince wanted her own thoughts, not for her to act as his spokesman. But Broadwell again simply relayed responses which seemed to originate with him.

        To this observer, it’s obvious that the Prince is saying, “Hey, we tried to get this biographer to provide some personal thoughts about Petraeus but: (A) she was clearly still in regular communication with Petraeus despite the book having already been completed and published; (B) she was unwilling to say anything without first checking with him and apparently getting his approval; and (C) given points (a) and (b), Broadwell and Petraeus have a continuing relationship which seems to straddle a personal or professional definition; so (D) in retrospect, we can see some evidence that the two of them were still doing the dirty deed.”

        I think the Prince piece from Friday is very interesting and topical. The Prince is basically saying, “We’ve got some Princeton-specific evidence that the director of the CIA was getting it on with a woman we tried to interview.” That is more interesting than most the stuff that Ivy newspapers publish. It doesn’t discredit her and, most importantly, it doesn’t make him “look better” since it basically confirms his infidelity. I’m not sure why you read anything other than that.

        • http://ivygateblog.com/ J.K. Trotter

          Thanks for responding. I wish more comments were like this. Now to answer:

          I disagree with your assessment that the point of the Prince article is to establish that, in retrospect, certain evidence indicates Broadwell and Petraeus were fooling around. What in the entire article suggests that they could have been “doing the dirty deed”? That Broadwell said she was Petraeus’s “archivist”?

          You characterize their reporting as, “we’ve got some Princeton-specific evidence that the director of the CIA was getting it on with a woman we tried to interview,” but ALL of that evidence is extremely, extremely circumstantial. Given that, what reason is there to publish this article, other than to impugn Broadwell?

          For the sake of argument, however, let’s agree that the point of the Prince article is to establish that their relationship was iffy, which is newsworthy, etc.

          Fine. In that case I still think it’s important to question the (apparently powerful) impulse to marshal evidence, however thin, against those whose actions or existence challenge Petraeus’s reputation or power. After all, Broadwell as a figure — her accomplishments, her past, and now involvement in Petraeus’s resignation — presents a clear danger to Petraeus.

          In the context of the initial Petraeus profile, the Broadwell article is pretty indicative of the Prince’s motives — latent or conscious, I can’t say — to gratify people like Petraeus and, without hesitation, summon and publish doubts on the character of those who in any way challenge them.

          In a nutshell: an automatic respect for power seems to be deeply embedded in the Daily Princetonian. The Petraeus profile confirms that; the Broadwell article even more so.

          • princetonian

            I just don’t even understand where you are getting this idea about the Prince’s “motives.” This story is far more about the Prince saying “Hey, we have something semi-relevant to say about this national story!” You portray it like the Prince has this devious plan to help Petraeus, who you say the Prince has a “clear history of adulating at length.”

            Um, what? Doing a story on Petraeus and his potential interest in the Princeton presidency is evidence of “adulating”? The quote you parade in the article doesn’t even show any bias, it just shows reporting on his workout habits. Your perception of the Prince is just completely ridiculous,

            Here I was, just thinking a story on Petraeus’ interest in the presidency and a follow-up story on his relationship with Broadwell were good scoops. THANK GOD JK Trotter is here to let me know that it’s actually a media conspiracy by a college frickin newspaper to keep a military leader from looking bad.

            Seriously, though, read that last line again. That’s literally the crux of your argument. How can you legitimately believe that?

          • http://ivygateblog.com/ J.K. Trotter

            “Motives” was a bad choice of phrasing on my part. That doesn’t characterize the argument accurately.

            I’m not saying there’s a massive conspiracy at the Daily Princetonian to protect military officials or whoever. It’s more like a culture or stance (the Greenwald piece, linked above, makes this especially clear) positioned to accomodate those who wield power, or whichever Foucauldian vocab word you find preferable.

            That stance is, in its simplest definition, a deference to authority, which I think both Prince pieces illustrate quite well.