Forbes posted a fascinating piece yesterday about how David Petraeus mastered the media, written by Nashvillian and former Scene investigative reporter Willy Stern. While the rest of the media is focused on the scandal that brought down the CIA director and military hero, Stern — who has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune, The Weekly Standard and The New Republic — offers some insight into Petraeus' unique gift for using the media to his advantage:
The evening before he was sworn in as CIA chief, I emailed David Petraeus seeking help with a story. The message he sent back is privileged. But I can share that he banged out a 2-page email of approximately 40 sentences. I learned how his last run went, where his aches and pains were, and what spy novel he’d just finished. I also got some meaty on-the-record quotes. That’s the work of a master—disgraced today, to be sure—but a master of the craft of media cultivation.
Wonder why Petraeus got a lot of good ink before his inexplicable fall from grace? Wonder no more. In the world of journalism, I’m a relative nobody so how, one wonders, must Petraeus have treated scribes from the NY Times and Washington Post? Let’s not forget that Petraeus, like all truly sophisticated modern military leaders, never missed an opportunity to make a friend in the media.
Of course, Petraeus stupidly went overboard in “cultivating” one such writer and it cost him his reputation and job. Nonetheless, as questions whirl as to why Petraeus had an affair, and whether the timing of the affair’s announcement was politically motivated, it’s instructive to use this sad episode as a springboard to think soberly about this complex relationship betwixt commander and journalist.