CHARLOTTE — Just a couple of months ago, Charlotte was enjoying its time in the spotlight, host of a Democratic National Convention that gave the city’s profile a national and international boost. The latest news out of the New South state is just as prominent but in another category altogether.
It involves reporters staking out the upscale Dilworth neighborhood, craving a sighting of resident Paula Broadwell and quizzing acquaintances on every detail in the life of the woman who sent the e-mails that prompted the investigation that ended the career of CIA Director David Petraeus.
The Broadwell house watchers were rewarded late Monday night into early Tuesday morning, when FBI agents spent hours searching and carrying out computers and boxes apparently containing papers.
Already, The Daily Beast has pointed out Broadwell’s proximity in distance and notoriety to Rielle Hunter, the mother of John Edwards’s youngest daughter. Just as the curious noted a child’s toys on Hunter’s property when that scandal unfolded, the chalk message “Dad (hearts) Mom” near the Broadwell’s driveway was duly photographed.
While some here are asking what’s in the water, others are figuring out degrees of separation and wondering what, if anything, this latest headline means for the city. Maybe it’s a sign of Charlotte’s growth that the reaction is the same you might imagine anywhere, sympathy for the children involved through no choice of their own and a sadness that transcends celebrity.
As someone at the gym said to me, it’s not as though Broadwell is the first person to have ever had an affair. She just wished people would stop talking about it. My She The People colleague Melinda Henneberger wondered why so much blame falls on the woman in these situations: “You’d almost think, from reading the coverage, that the former general was a helpless kitten with little to say in the decisions that blew up his career.”
In the articles that try to explain Broadwell, those who know her best go out of their way to make her human, a person who made bad choices while still being an attentive mother of two. During that Democratic convention week in Charlotte, the overachieving military veteran co-hosted a fundraiser for wounded soldiers, with Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” as a guest.
Holly Petraeus, the wronged spouse, has spent her life helping veterans’ families, offering consumer education and protecting them from fraud and unethical business practices.
Yet coverage tends to reduce them to vixen and victim, defined by a powerful man’s high profile and larger-than-life personality.
In Charlotte, Rielle Hunter and her daughter have found a place – yes, not far from the Broadwells. If that was Edwards trick or treating with his daughter, it didn’t raise a stir.
It’s easy to discover some sort of pattern and point out the “people-have-affairs-everywhere-who-knew” irony in the home of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Charlotte is neither the headquarters of fire and brimstone Southern retribution nor a progressive hotbed.
But — no surprise, either, in this city of churches — many I talk with say they’ll pray for everyone involved and leave it at that.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3