Second acts for Paula Broadwell and David Petraeus

September 12, 2013
Author Paula Broadwell is pictured discussing her biography of retired Gen. David Petraeus to Daily Show host Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in New York on Nov. 10, 2012. (Reuters)
Author Paula Broadwell is pictured discussing her biography of retired Gen. David Petraeus to Daily Show host Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in New York on Nov. 10, 2012. (Reuters)

Author Paula Broadwell and retired Gen. David Petraeus are in the news again – for different reasons and with very different reactions.

Broadwell, a guest speaker Tuesday at one of the best-attended Rotary Club of Charlotte meetings ever, is settling back into her life with her doctor husband and two young sons. The club’s report on her appearance featured the topic of her speech, military veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no mention of the frenzy that last November accompanied news of her affair with then-CIA director Petraeus.

Broadwell, a veteran herself, has continued to speak out on issues related to veterans’ transition after wartime service. Earlier this year, she apologized for any harm the affair caused, and said she was “not focused on the past.” She obviously would like to move on, something she more than hinted at in a comment reported by WFAE radio that was as much about her as returning veterans. “In my experience as well,” she said this week, “you can’t survive a personal crisis without friends and a community to help you, and Charlotte is clearly benevolent in this way.”

Petraeus, on the other hand, was hounded on his way to his job as a visiting professor at The City University of New York (CUNY), with young people described in a video as “CUNY students” yelling “war criminal” and “scumbag,” among other insults. His stint and paycheck at CUNY has been criticized, but in a Wednesday statement to NPR, Ann Kirschner, dean of the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, said: “Our university is a place where complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum are considered and debated in the hopes that we might offer solutions to the problems in our world. In order to advance reasoned debate on such issues, it is important that multiple points of view be heard.”

Petraeus’ reception at Duke University in Durham, N.C., on Wednesday was more civil as he took questions – none about the scandal – and expressed support and skepticism about a possible diplomatic solution in Syria, according to the News & Observer.

Petraeus is finding New York is a tough town. (He has company — as this week’s election results show — in Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, two guys whose hasty public comebacks failed.)

In Charlotte, curiosity about Broadwell gave way to some sympathy and a certain protectiveness, even as — or maybe because of – TV trucks and photographers keeping a vigil outside her home late last year. Stories that painted her as a temptress who took advantage of a general garnered support for her from many folks I spoke with then, who found that characterization a sexist way to let a grown man off the hook.

Journalists traveling to the city where we both make our home tried to find some sort of parallel between Broadwell and another Charlotte resident made famous because of her relationship with a powerful man. By then though, Rielle Hunter was barely getting a second glance, even when my husband and I saw her with former senator John Edwards and their daughter making their way from a parking lot to a neighborhood pizza place.

Broadwell has followed a path that image rehabilitation experts recommend, as she concentrates on a cause she cares about and has long supported. That seems to be working, even in a New South city in the Bible belt.

Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3
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