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July 12, 2014, 5:34 am

Too much Petraeus, not enough news

Like me, you must be getting pretty tired of seeing and hearing all the stories, since Election Day, about the now-infamous General Petraeus and whether or not he slept with one or both of the two women who had been jealously competing for his attention.

Like you, I suppose, I wondered all week long why it was receiving front-page treatment, day-in and day-out, from most major daily newspapers across the country.

Was any of it really news?" For example, when the story first broke, I immediately began to wonder why “having an affair” would qualify as an offense for which a U.S. Army General, or a CIA Director, would have to resign from their positions.

Soldiers? Affairs? That’s not news, never has been. Who were they trying to fool?

Many years ago, I actually served in the Army as a member of the New Jersey National Guard. That meant five-and-a-half years on “reserve status," i.e., full, military meetings, every month, on Saturdays and Sundays and two full weeks of military encampment every summer. When I first went in, of course, I was assigned to “active duty” for six months at Ft. Campbell, Ky. and Ft. Sill, Okla.

Quite frankly, as I think back, I don’t recall witnessing very much “marital fidelity” in either of those places. In fact, it was considered “normal,” and it was “expected,” that soldiers have “affairs" wherever they happened to be.

Indeed, one of the Army’s primary objectives seemed to be to reduce the degree to which its soldiers despaired about being away from their spouses. The more soldiers distrusted the fidelity of their spouses, the Army seemed to think, the more they’d be free to focus on their military duties and the more likely they would be to "re-up."

For example, when our “Bravo Company" moved from place to place, around the military facility, we went as a group and marched precisely and in step. To break the boredom and to improve soldierly spirits, certain non-commissioned officers and fellow-soldiers were recruited to call cadence, loudly initiating a call-and-response chant between themselves and the rest of the infantrymen.

I learned, very early on, when I was asked to call cadence for Bravo that a favorite topic for each march was “Jody,” the character, the Army explained, who was sleeping with the soldier’s spouse back at home while they were serving their country.

So, dutifully, while my fellow soldiers marched, I’d march along outside the column, and call out, and they’d repeat, in cadence, words such as this: “Ain’t no sense in going home, Jody's got your girl and gone. Ain’t no sense in feeling blue, Jody’s got your sister, too. Sound off, sound off, sound off, one, two, three, four, three-four!”

It worked like a charm. Over time, soldiers who had been madly in love, and who had spent half their time thinking about, writing to, or calling their spouse or significant others, soon began to be fixated on the diabolical, back-stabbing, Jody. That being the case, they assumed, more and more every day, that their “former loved one” had fallen under Jody’s spell and was no longer being faithful.

That approach seemed to have been very effective in destroying a great number of military relationships. According to a 2011 headline in “The Atlantic,” based on a report by the American Sociological Association (ASA): "(U.S. military) veterans (are) twice as likely to cheat on their spouses as non-veterans."

The report went on to point out, specifically, that 32 percent of married veterans had engaged in extra-marital sex, as compared to 16.8 percent of married non-veterans.

So, knowing all of that and seeing the ASA data, I immediately thought the media’s shocked reaction to General Petraeus’ extra-marital activities was pure hypocrisy. I wondered why any of the General’s reported actions constituted grounds for the removal of one of the nation’s most powerful military leaders.

I began to suspect, as others did, that the “affair” stories were simply a vain attempt by government leaders to prevent the General from having to testify about what really took place leading up to, and during, the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

As you’ll recall, that was the incident that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American citizens.

Initially, the U.S. Government’s public response, largely given by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, was that the attacks had resulted from negative responses from unorganized Libyans who were simply reacting to an anti-Muslim film that had been produced in the U.S.

There had been great speculation that, if questioned by members of Congress, General Petraeus, who, by virtue of his role at the top of the Central Intelligence Agency, had to be intimately familiar with all of the actual Benghazi-related details. He might tell a significantly different story, as compared to the one told by Rice, thereby embarrassing the Administration.

Despite what appeared to be a well-crafted plan. Petraeus, even after having resigned as CIA director, was called to testify before Congress on Friday anyway. His version of “the truth” did wind up being markedly different from the original government-approved story and, according to Republican Congressman Peter King, the General actually disclosed, in his version, that the attack on the U.S. Embassy was “an act of terrorism committed by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.”

All of a sudden, there were two entirely different stories about the same event.

Notwithstanding that confusion, for all of us, there should be another concern — the one about how this weak, oft-repeated, tabloid-like, story about a soldier and his girlfriends kept us from being adequately informed about other important domestic issues that should have gotten more prominent news coverage.

For example, because General Petraeus, somehow, was the major dominant story in virtually every media outlet for an entire week, we missed having appropriate focus on several stories that reflected the true mood of the country in the wake of a very contentious Presidential election.

For example, was there enough attention paid to the fact that, last week, during the 50th anniversary of the integration of the University of Mississippi, by Civil Rights icon James Meredith, 550 “angry and agitated” students on that campus, immediately following the re-election of Barack Obama, gathered to attack the president’s policies and to make threatening comments about race?

Because there was so much focus on Petraeus, was there enough news coverage about the white students at Hampden-Sydney College, in Virginia, who broke bottles, set off fireworks, and yelled racial insults near the Minority Student Union House, on that campus?

Did we see prominently featured the story about the University of Kentucky’s study of racist “tweets” nationwide following the Election?

Because of the excessive focus on Petraeus, was there enough news coverage of a still-growing but important story about the nearly 800,000 petitions to secede from the United States drawn from each of the 50 states? Did we hear enough about the race-based anti-Obama tone of those petitions, or even that six of the seven states that have already generated the required minimum of 25,000 signatures were some of the largest recipients of federal funding in 2010.

And, finally, one of the stories that the whole “Petraeus thing” caused us to miss was not so much critical, as it was poetic justice. That was the one that informed the few people who saw it that more than 55,000 Facebook users have “unliked” Mitt Romney since last Tuesday’s election results were finalized, representing a rate of 847 lost "friends" per hour.

Especially in light of his post-Election racist comments, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

 

A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.