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'Cult of David Petraeus': Did media perpetuate a myth?

Members of the Pentagon press are shaking their heads in the wake of the David Petraeus scandal. Some think Petraeus's savvy and personable style led them to be too soft on him.

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Gen. David Petraeus, then-commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, speaks to the media at his office in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this 2010 file photo.

Mustafa Quraishi/AP/File

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The case of former CIA Director David Petraeus has not only caused head-scratching in the halls of the Pentagon and within the intelligence community. It has also inspired journalists to do a bit of soul-searching within their own ranks.
 
 The questions tend to go something like this: Were we too easy on him?

The now-retired four-star general, who ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was routinely called the greatest strategic military mind of his generation. While an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has no direct connection to Mr. Petraeus's military achievements, it does take the glow off the cult of personality that had developed around him. And defense reporters are now acknowledging they played no small part in burnishing that once-shining image.

Why did the press corps – usually so hard-bitten and cynical – come under Petraeus's sway? He was indisputably a genius at cultivating the press. 

He promptly answered journalist e-mails and had an impressive command of journalistic lingo – like off-the-record, background, and deep background – that remains a bit foggy to the general public, and even many reporters.

“His ability to talk to a reporter for 45 minutes, to flow on-the-record to background or off-the-record and back, and to say meaningful things and not get outside the lane too much – it was the best I’ve ever seen,” recalls retired Col. Pete Mansoor, Petraeus’s executive officer in Iraq, in a piece by Wired defense reporter Spencer Ackerman. 

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