Nearly one thousand news sources are now avidly following the details of the Petraeus sex scandal. Turn on the TV, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that some kind of cosmic hero had fallen to earth. In reality, Petraeus was pumped up from the beginning. His hero status was always a media creation, and it’s only really the media that now feels “betrayed” by the “surprise” that he was not the new Captain America that they had imagined him to be.
While his fall matters less than the coverage would suppose, it does raise a couple of questions that should make us all uneasy.
First, Petraeus and Broadwell worked hard to conceal their affair from prying eyes – setting up a dedicated Gmail account, not emailing from home, and so on – but their precautions were pathetically inadequate in the face of an FBI that has gleefully abandoned any pretense at respecting the communications privacy of Americans. Get on the government’s radar, the Petraeus case seems to tell us, and every secret you have will be spilled, whether or not any crime was actually committed.
Second, Broadwell herself had ambitions of running for office someday. That so ain’t happening now. Political opponents would barely have to lift a finger to discredit her candidacy. You can easily argue that she brought it on herself; but in this new digital age, your past humiliations stay with you all your life. There are no fresh starts and no redemptions. If past generations of presidential candidates had had all their sins – with pictures! – held against them, then scarcely a one (except perhaps Carter) would have passed the test. New generations, who have lived all their lives online, are going to be deterred from entering public life by spectacles like this, and we should expect many more. We are rapidly approaching the point where only Pralite monks will be able to risk entering public life.
Some surveillance activists might feel satisfaction in the fact that a leading figure of the surveillance state has been laid low by apparently warrantless surveillance from a competing agency. The surveillance revolution is indeed beginning to consume its own children. Truthfully, it arouses only pity in me.
Use every man after his desert, and who should escape whipping?
As usual, Glenn Greenwald hits the nail on the head: