Up and down those stairs again? The tiring life of a scandal babe

November 20, 2012

skit on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend shows an endless loop of Tampa socialite and suspected e-mail flirt Jill Kelley, who is pen pals with General John Allen, walking down some stairs and getting into a car. For variety’s sake, we then see the clip shown backward, in slow-mo and in a reenactment featuring a plus-size female impersonator.


(AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, T. Ortega Gaines)

As my Southern-drawling friend Rose says, behind every little tease is just a little bitta truth: The sketch works because it so perfectly captures the treadmill of the scandal babe, and of the made-for-TV reality in which it’s no surprise that paparazzi captured evidence of a caged-looking Paula Broadwell, biographer and intimate friend of former CIA head General David Petraeus (and alleged Kelley cyber-stalker) having a glass of wine at her brother’s house this week.

No surprise, either, that one enterprising photographer was injured when Broadwell, making a run for it, swung open her car door and smacked her in the face. Inadvertently, the shooter thinks.


Jill Kelley, coming down stairs before getting into her car. (AP)

For a reminder that even this level of kookiness is progress of a sort, check out “A Royal Affair,” the beautiful Danish movie about what happened when Queen Caroline Mathilde took an extramarital stroll on the rumored-to-be-gay, definitely mentally ill cousin she was forced to marry in 1766. And yes, society has become less hard on women in trouble since life in 19th-century Russia inspired Leo Tolstoy’s tragic adulteress Anna Karenina in the 1870s. Today, Mrs. Karenin would simply hire Gloria Allred, or Judy Smith.

The former held a news conference at the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday to explain that her latest client, Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley’s twin, had been wronged in the public eye. What, you didn’t know Khawam was in the public eye, other than in that one photo with her sister? Think harder, and you may recall that Generals Petraeus and Allen went to bat for her in family court, telling a judge she’s a fine mom who should never have lost custody of her son (a la both Anna Karenina and Queen Caroline Mathilde.) 


Natalie Khawam and Gloria Allred at a news conference at the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Theoretically, the point of the news conference was to set the record straight, but really, it was one big bragathon, a pre-Thanksgiving festival of moment-milking: Allred read a statement about her client’s credentials and resume’ as well as her mothering skills. The larger point, she said, was that “Natalie is just one of the many mothers in this country who has been forced to suffer because of family court decisions.” Oh, and she wanted to publicly thank both David and Holly Petraeus for having “loved Natalie’s child and emotionally supported her and her son through the toughest time in Natalie and her son’s life . . . They did so when they learned that she was being unfairly portrayed and was a victim of injustice.” Then Allred refused to answer any questions about what she was talking about.

In her own turn at the microphone, Khawam wiped away tears, and as Allred braced her arm, spoke of her sister: “Jill and I aren’t just twins; we’re best friends — we’re literally inseparable.” Well not literally, but they did play varsity tennis together: “She played net and I served.” They played softball, too: “She was the catcher and I pitched.” They also enjoy piano, chess, and cooking. “I usually bake and she likes to saute’.”

Allred has championed some important causes over the decades, taking on pedophile priests, deadbeat dads, AIDS discrimination and caddish behavior of every flavor. She and Smith, the crisis consultant who is the basis for Olivia Pope, the main character on the TV show “Scandal,” might well have kept Caroline on the throne, and headed off Anna’s final fling in the railway station. 

But the client who stood before the cameras on Tuesday was there to demand the balance of her 15 minutes on the cable stairmaster, and she should hope the family judge didn’t see it.

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dropped by Sesame Street to let the Muppets and their audience know that “pretending to be a princess is fun, but it definitely isn’t a career.” Well, “scandal babe” isn’t a career, either, no matter how big the book advance. (And Monica, seriously, I know you earned every penny in damages.)

Though even royal runaway wives are no longer in mortal peril, we aren’t quite at scandal parity yet; how is it that Newt Gingrich can come through any number of marital misadventures and then be invited to weigh in on national television about where Petraeus went wrong?

Occasionally, however, a woman not only endures such a frenzy but all but makes us all but forget it ever happened; you don’t look at Vanessa Williams and think of those pictures from 1,000 years ago, do you? And shouldn’t that be the post-imbroglio goal, instead of laying claim to every last one of those minutes in the bright, negative light?

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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