The most dangerous place in Washington is between (insert name of politician here) and a camera. That’s the tired joke about politicians trying to keep themselves in the news.
The same could be said about Gen. David Petraeus. He is on the cover of Newsweek this week, in yet another profile that couldn’t be more glowing if Petraeus paid for it in cash.
John Barry calls him “the dutiful soldier” in paragraph two. By paragraph four Petraeus is described as “hard as a rock.” (The caption beside a photograph of Petraeus identifies him as “the hard-as-a-rock, push-up-pumping Petraeus.”) Graph six calls him a “hardened veteran.” That graph also includes a quote from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who calls Petraeus “the most impressive combination of character, leadership, and intelligence I have ever encountered.”Barry also calls him the “not-so-old soldier.”
Barry then quotes this joke from Petraeus: “I have a Ph.D, though I kept it quiet to avoid damaging my military career.” Now that’s hilarious self-deprecation! Ha, ha, ha.
The piece then goes on to basically say that Petraeus is the perfect human being — except for a paper Petraeus wrote at Princeton 100 years ago. Barry says Petraeus got a B-plus. Oh wait. Petraeus doesn’t fail. So he wrote the paper again. “The second effort earned him an A-plus,” Barry writes.
Wow! That was a close one.
The article then mimics every other profile of Petraeus. He’s smarter than everybody. He runs faster and farther. He never loses. We wakes up early. He rides his bicycle up hills with unflagging speed. He bakes 20 minute brownies in 10 minutes.
Petraeus is consistently described as brilliant probably because he is. But as reporters, let’s not forget the idea that he may be working the press with the same finesse he employs when he meets with John McCain.
I mean, the man posed for photos for a (yes, glowing) Vanity Fair profile. Vanity Fair. He ain’t targeting a Pentagon audience with that magazine. Petraeus was even here in our DC bureau the other day posing in his crazily fabulous dress uniform for yet another photo shoot. He looked great. He knows that.
Image cultivation is high art in the military. Petraeus takes it to a new level. I’m just saying that we in the press need to keep that in mind when we sit down to type.