FEIGNED OUTRAGE

We're now a full week into saturation Petraeus Got Laid coverage and I still have not located a crap to give. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoy watching the news networks and commentators fighting one another for the coveted title of Most Morally Outraged. A married man had sex with his obsequious biographer? Why I never. It's a great opportunity for America to show off its puritan streak, and it raises the interesting question of how long a society can continue to hold a given attitude when almost none of its individual members do.

Being at least somewhat familiar with the psychology literature on phenomena like compliance, conformity, and bandwagon effects, I tend to assume that 99% of the outrage in these political sex scandals is hollow. We act shocked because everyone on TV is shocked, and we certainly don't want our co-workers / neighbors / etc to think we have loose morals, do we? It's easier to wag our finger in the same direction as everyone else than to explain that you don't really care and deal with other people (who may privately agree with you) judging you. On the rare occasions that we are forced to justify our harsh condemnation of highly visible cheaters, we justify our hypocrisy with the old saws about how public officials should be held to a higher standard than you were when you cheated on your wife.

The media's behavior is equally predictable, as "Sex and lots of it" is one of the Hearst commandments and the right-wing media is trying to string this along until they can figure out some way to make an Obama scandal out of it. They've already devoted so much time over the last five years to giving vigorous handjobs to the great General that they can't throw him under the bus as part of the administration. I'm sure it will turn out that he was set up by ACORN or something along those lines.

Sure, it's moderately newsworthy that the head of the CIA may have given classified information to a member of the media under, uh, unprofessional circumstances. Instead we're doing what we usually do – channeling our puritanical shame into an obsession with titillation and Made for TV Movie quality sex scandals. A guy cheated on his wife. Sucks for his wife. Are enough people in this country repressed enough to continue to care beyond that, or does the amount of coverage simply create the impression that there's a public demand for it?

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35 Responses to “FEIGNED OUTRAGE”

  1. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    The whole thing is that he headed CIA. Wrong job for a dalliance. Never mind past behavior by Allen Dulles, that was then and this is now. Plus there is the idiot factor–gmail!?!? Adds up to indefensible.

    If he were a senator, then no big deal, of course.

  2. J. Dryden Says:

    Oh, but we've already entered into my favorite part of any scandal: the Coverage *of* the Coverage. From hereon, Fox will base most of its "reporting" and "analysis" not on what happened, but on how the Liberal Media and their Buddies In The Kenyan Administration have tried to "frame," "spin," "massage," or "distort" these events. And MSNBC will then report on Fox's reporting. And Jezebel will report on the sexism of all the reporting. And HuffPo will report on what the ostensibly funniest reports have been. And so on, as the snake doesn't so much devour its tail as it does plant its head firmly in its own ass and then compress into a critical mass of self-excusing self-examination.

    Sucks to be a real person in a world increasingly occupied by those who prefer to characterize reality, rather than live in it. More pertinently, sucks for the betrayed spouses and their children–hey, can we get footage on them awkwardly holding hands for the cameras?

  3. daphne Says:

    Depends on who "we" are. I've read a number of "who cares" essays though so far no "who cares" commentary on the TV.

  4. ladiesbane Says:

    All the Lefty outrage I've been reading (about Petraeus himself rather than manufactured drama and Eric Cantor) relates to his hardcore pushing of military Christianity, espousing the critical importance of morality and "spirituality" for warriors, the virtue of Virtue, dieu et mon droit…then failing his hypocrisy roll.

    Bonus question: which is worse? The Christians who who expect flawless behavior from a person whose religion believes failure is inevitable? Or those who rationally argue that all have sinned and are in need of redemption (therefore, "boys will be boys", tra-la!)?

  5. Elle Says:

    From hereon, Fox will base most of its "reporting" and "analysis" not on what happened, but on how the Liberal Media and their Buddies In The Kenyan Administration have tried to "frame," "spin," "massage," or "distort" these events. And MSNBC will then report on Fox's reporting. And Jezebel will report on the sexism of all the reporting. And HuffPo will report on what the ostensibly funniest reports have been.

    And international media outlets will pontificate about why Americans are so uptight about the intensely quotidian happenstance of taking a lover. And there will be a brief flurry of self-regarding Tweets along the lines of: "I wish Americans were as outraged by war as they are about sex."

  6. Arslan Says:

    The CIA is literally a criminal organization, possibly one of the worst in history. And yes, when I say literally I mean literally as in they engage in crimes such as assassination and terrorism. Naturally, we must have a morally upright man commanding the agency!!

    Seriously though, when you look at the statistics on cheating for both men and women in the US(they are roughly the same), you know for a fact that in any mixed group of people wagging their finger at Patraeus you've got at least one or two cheaters or at least people who have cheated some time in their lives. If there are really no cheaters in the group then…..THE CHEATER IS YOU!!!!

  7. Middle Seaman Says:

    Our strength: generals that cannot get decent sex and who spend their time on emailing with bizarre women. Absolutely, it is a scandal.

  8. Freeportguy Says:

    I have yet to hear one mention "think of the kids" or "role models"…

  9. Xynzee Says:

    And you're wasting your time and everyone else's on this topic why?…

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    Since when is "Older man with power and authority, caught schtupping willing younger woman," anything but dog-bites-man "news?"

    If he weren't head of the CIA, and is "The Keeper of the Secrets," no one would give a sh*t.
    Btw – I'm waiting for the Republicans to start impeachment hearing on Obama for the BJ Petraues got

    This is all a distraction.
    The press likes these kind of stories because they can act like moral scolds – and, there's little to no work involved.

    This is also nice cover for "The Grand Fucking" that is being discussed, and will probably soon be negotiated behind closed doors.

    Besides, I suspect that this isn't the first time that the General found a younger holster for his smoking pistol.

  11. JMG Says:

    I don't know about your premise. In my sedate well-to-do suburban community, the dominant response to this story is laughter. Americans LIKE seeing the powerful behave like idiots, whether sex is involved or not.

  12. Tim H. Says:

    Who wants to bet Petraeus gets a cushier retirement than that B-52 pilot that was caught shagging an enlisted woman's husband a few years ago?

  13. Jon Says:

    The real story here is that the Surveillance State is eating itself. Sexytime with someone other than your wife makes people stand up and take notice, that's a given. When the head spy of the CIA is outed and disgraced for doing what is by all accounts legal, by the apparatus that the they themselves put in place, that's news.

  14. Misterben Says:

    One of my favorite components of this so far is that lots of commentators have cited the old notion that people with high-security jobs can't have affairs, because then they might get blackmailed.

    We see what the Petraeus response to the threat of exposure is: shrug, and walk away. So it seems pretty clear blackmail wouldn't have accomplished anything.

  15. sluggo Says:

    The top spy needs to be able to cover his tracks better than he did. That's my problem with him. If you can't hide an illicit girlfriend…..how much of a sneeky spy can you really be?

    The second issue is: if you are going to resign, do so for 'personal reasons' like they did back in the day. There is no reason to put your wife, yourself, or for godsakes, even your mistress, through this in public. Why make it that much worse? Bad judgement.

  16. sluggo Says:

    @ cu

    She wasn't that young: 40 years old. Wasn't that about the age of Mrs. Robinson in the graduate?

    That's the other side of the story: married, mother of two, 40 years old.

    It takes two.

  17. Sarah Says:

    The media's behavior is equally predictable, as "Sex and lots of it" is one of the Hearst commandments and the right-wing media is trying to string this along until they can figure out some way to make an Obama scandal out of it.

    I thought they did that by implying that Obama and/or his higher-ups knew about the scandal at least a week before the election and suppressed the info in order to avoid hurting his chances for victory.

    Blech. I'm a baptized Catholic, and I am so full of DO NOT CARE for this. Don't get me wrong, I hope his wife takes him to the cleaners, and if he betrayed Important Secrets OMG in the course of this affair he should face whatever sanctions are appropriate. And that should be the end of the discussion.

  18. c u n d gulag Says:

    sluggo,
    Yeah, I know it takes two to do the horizontal tango!
    But, I didn't say she was "young" – I said "younger!" ;-)

  19. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Elle: The foreign press is staffed entirely by people whose job interview consisted of a single question: "Are you motivated by anything other than juvenile schadenfreude?" "Nope." "Welcome aboard."

    My favorite commonplace of theirs is the sweeping "Americans clearly feel that…" To which I inevitable respond "Pal, there's 300 million of us stretched across a continent of mountains, plains, swamps, deserts, and forests. You have no idea what 'we' clearly feel, because there is no 'we.' Shoo."

  20. ladiesbane Says:

    The idea that Obama would suppress a scandal involving a bunch of hypocritical, immoral-by-their-own-standards Republicans seems a bit odd to me.

    That their mishigas includes FBI and military security violations, privacy violations, and a bunch of other embarrassments is the real ugly. But all the principals are Republicans, so instead of directing their moral outrage at fellow Righties, the GOP blame Obama. It makes sense if you're a Republican.

  21. Elle Says:

    @ J. Dryden

    That is quite some grumpiness you have there towards the "foreign press", a body whom I would not have to out on a limb to describing as even more diverse than the good citizens of the US.

  22. Elle Says:

    (If you could all fix the grammar in the above comment in your heads, I would be much obliged. Clearly even a job within the foreign press would be beyond my grasp today.)

  23. Tom Bloodgood Says:

    It's news because it's a soap opera story. You have the head of the CIA, Petraeus, losing his job because his biographer, Broadwell, an Army Reservist and former intelligence officer, sent nasty e-mails to another woman, Kelley, a socialite who was a family friend of Petraeus. Kelley was involved with Gen. Allen who was next in line to take over as the Supreme Commander of our troops in Europe. Kelley got upset by the e-mails and reported them to the FBI. The FBI broke the story.

    Minor characters include an FBI agent who sent shirtless pics to Kelley and Kelley's twin sister who was married to a former Bush administration official named Wolfe. Her twin sister was involved in a nasty custody case with Wolfe and Petraeus and Allen both wrote briefs testifying to the twin sister's character.

    Is anyone sure this isn't just a Hollywood script? All this story needs now is someone waking up from a coma.

  24. Patrick Says:

    The outrage is completely manufactured. The Republicans had about one day of soul searching, instead of changing anything they decided to construct a justification to impeach the president so that they can hamstring his second term. Our political system is going to be truly f'd if impeachment becomes a standard tool for opposition party obstruction.

  25. Elle Says:

    Is anyone sure this isn't just a Hollywood script? All this story needs now is someone waking up from a coma.

    Or the discovery that Gen Petreus is actually tied up in a basement while his evil twin sallies forth.

  26. mothra Says:

    My favorite part of this whole thing is indeed the surveillance state being turned on those who created it. Here's the FBI, combing through love e-mails and flirty e-mails, none of which come even remotely close to breaking any law. Why? Because some rightwing FBI agent was certain he'd be able to bring down Obama with this nonsense. Now, rightwing FBI agent is being intensely scrutinized, Ms. Kelley who thought she'd REALLY get some bitch in trouble is having not only her life splayed open for public review, but her sister, too. Plus, she got her good buddy Petraeus in a heap o'trouble and in fact ruined his career.

    All of it just beyond stupid and a collection of poor choices, one after the other.

  27. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Elle: Point taken and conceded. I admit, I was really thinking of the foreign press I occasionally read: British, Australian, Irish, Italian, German and French. (Also, those awesome Taiwanese animated news segments–Next Media is a gift from the gods.) But it's not exactly the entirety of the globe, that gaggle. I have no idea what, say, the Singaporeans are saying about us. (Though what with all our litter, it *can't* be good.)

    Still, I think the stereotype of Europeans who visit America involuntarily (on business, as opposed to emigres or tourists) and find much to enjoyably despise is, while a stereotype, an *earned* stereotype–it's still small-minded and wrong-headed, but it's correct with enough frequency to support snide humor. Vis: Me.

  28. mel in oregon Says:

    what a silly article. sure the corporate press is intrigued with a sex scandal. but i thought rortybomb writers wrote about serious issues. some of you write that since he was head of the cia that should be the reason for a story. nope, the real issue is the incompetence of petraeus & most of the rest of the generals in the fiasco wars in afghanistan & iraq. the surges that were portrayed as working was complete bullshit. petraues rose to the rank of major general with no combat experience. almost all generals in today's military rise because they tell presidents bush & obama what they want to hear. patton would have fired these guys on the spot. the real story is petraeus wanted a biographer that would portray the bullshit he was peddling. it's exactly the kind of bullshit westmoreland was peddling about viet nam. so generals nowadays hobnob with the "beautiful people" while the grunts come back with missing limbs & become homeless. it's a damn shame americans are so damn stupid & the deficit is about these pointless wars & the corruption of worthless wallstreet speculators. we should help our veterans who need help, the enlisted men & don't worry about multi-millionaire generals.

  29. Elle Says:

    @ J. Dryden

    I don't mean to take you unduly to task, because you are generally a most fair-minded and gracious commenter. I do think, though, that if you truly believe the majority of journalists working in the countries you list to be small-minded, unprofessional, incompetent, xenophobic hacks, then you are not availing yourself of the thoughtful plenty that is available.

  30. DB Says:

    @ Tim H

    "A few years ago"? Man, I hate to tell you this, but that was 1997. Newborns from then are starting to drive now…

  31. Bernard Says:

    meanwhile the Elites work to do their dirty work, continue on playing "us vs them". throw a few stupid sex scandals to keep the Calvinist Christians outraged.

    reading that Petraeus said in West Point graduation essay, "How things appear is what matters, anyway." the truth is irrelevant. that is the guy leading the CIA and the military in Iraq and Afghanistan before being "promoted."

    this is our MIC. these are the people in charge. our Big Shots. such a wonder, huh, that we lost Iraq and Afghanistan. just wait for the next war, Iran! but the money is good. so on we go, sucking up the stupidity and killing all the innocents.

    hell, we got proof the Empire will collapse. We don't need not stinking Muslims to do that!

    our Sex starved Puritan ancestors/their descendants are just soo, soo shocked. SEX that 3 letter word, even worse than those 4 letter ones.

    America in all its' glory. boy do we need saving from our selves. lol

  32. Ruthie Says:

    Isn't anyone just the least bit curious about how a wannabe Florida socialite gets to be a CENTCOM groupie with access to generals and on-call response by the FBI?

  33. mel in oregon Says:

    on a lighter note, i have to quote david macaray, who said, "my hope, my dream is we find patraeus was born in kenya, anthony weiner sent pictures of his penis to broadwell & kelley, & at some point the kardashians are implicated."

  34. bb in GA Says:

    @Bernard

    I'm fascinated w/ your chops busting on 'Calvinist Christians' (I'm not one) Did you just like that alliteration CC thing or what?

    I would hazard a guess that the most sexually uptight amongst us Christians are thoroughgoing Arminians (Southern Baptists, Pentecostals,…) not Calvinists.

    //bb