Hero worship rots our free press and public bureaucracies


If the reporting shows Petraeus felt he should no longer serve as CIA director, then he shouldn’t be CIA director. You have to want a leadership job to be an effective leader. Tom Ricks refuses to accept his own reporting:

I am told that President Obama tried to talk Petraeus out of resigning, but Petraeus took the samurai route and insisted that he had done a dishonorable thing and now had to try to balance it by doing the honorable thing and stepping down as CIA director

But why?

source: Why does Petraeus have to go? | The Best Defense.

Why? Petraeus doesn’t feel he has the professional and personal confidence he needs to feel to serve as director of the CIA. That’s it. President Obama tried to keep the man on, so he wasn’t pushed out (like McChrystal had to be). Petraeus knows he got caught slippin’ and that was professionally unacceptable. The folks that may continue to fail us are journalists and authors like Ricks, and Spencer Ackerman were/are enamored of Petraeus’ personality.

In addition, another concerning issues is that no one of any knowledge felt they had the position or the need to tell Petraeus the access he afforded journalist Paula Broadwell was not appropriate (affair or not):

Broadwell didn’t have a journalistic background, and it seemed a bit odd that she was visibly welcomed into Petraeus’ inner circle. At a Senate hearing Petraeus testified at last year, for instance, I met Broadwell for the first time in person, and noted that she sat with Petraeus’ retinue instead of with the press corps. Some of Petraeus’ old crew found it similarly strange. “I never told General Petraeus this, but I thought it was fairly strange that he would give so much access to someone who had never written a book before,” Mansoor recalls.

At the same time, consider this passage from All In:

Far beyond his influence on the institutions and commands in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus also left an indelible mark on the next generation of military leaders as a role model of soldier-scholar statesman. … Creative thinking and the ability to wrestle with intellectual challenges are hugely important in counterinsurgency but also any campaign’s design and execution, he felt; and equipping oneself with new analytical tools, civilian and academic experiences, and various networks had been invaluable for him and — he hoped — for those whom he’d mentored and led.

The uncomfortable truth is that a lot of us who’ve covered Petraeus over the years could have written that. It’s embarrassingly close to my piece on Petraeus’ legacy that @bitteranagram tweeted. And that’s not something you should fault Petraeus for. It’s something you should fault reporters like me for. Another irony that Petraeus’ downfall reveals is that some of us who egotistically thought our coverage of Petraeus and counterinsurgency was so sophisticated were perpetuating myths without fully realizing it.

So now I will answer some of the stupid questions being asked over and over again on all the news stations:

Who will testify to congress on Benghazi? He has a second in command at the CIA, they will testify to congress on Benghazi. I’m sure they can answer the committee’s question.

Who will lead the CIA? There have been many heads of the CIA. The president will find someone.

How do you replace a leader like him? If he feels he can’t lead anymore we’ve already lost whatever leader people believed he was and he has to be replaced.

Why didn’t the FBI tell Petraeus superiors earlier? Congress can hear testimony from the FBI director and the head of national security can debrief the FBI director.

Is Petraeus an awful human being because he had an affair? No, just an awful husband. The affair is a personal matter and makes Petraeus and Broadwell two people who violated their wedding vows. They aren’t irredeemable. The fact that Petraeus’ jealous lover, who was also his hagiographer, had access to classified information on her notebook computer and used that to threaten a woman she believed to be Petraeus’ new lover is the real issue.

I wish reporters would trade in the word “head city parking authority” or “kids sports league commissioner” for “general” or “bank CEO” when they get access like this and see if their praise seems ridiculous before they publish these articles. The people wondering if Petraeus is irreplaceable have been told that he was uniquely qualified for his role for years. It’s not nor was it ever fact, but it became “true” to all of them due to reporters failing to hold up their side of the bargain.

In addition, if Petraeus is a scholar, then he should be debated and challenged by leadership above and below him. The fact that no one said: “General Petraeus, as a matter of professional behavior, seating your biographer among your staff and not with her colleagues in the journalist pool is poor practice and can cause problems later” is equally as concerning. Such a suggestion may have led Petraeus to realize he was screwing up earlier than the investigation did. That’s a failure of leadership beyond the general.

Note: Props to Spencer Ackerman for admitting he got sucked in.