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Sunday, November 11, 2012

What Did Vernon Loeb Know?


Sorry for the suggestive title; I was just looking for another angle on the Paula Broadwell - David Petraeus problem, and I got curious about the role of Ms. Broadwell's co-author, Washington Post editor Vernon Loeb.

The book is in her name, "with" Vernon Loeb, which, in my experience, usually happens when a celebrity is writing a book.  Not much of the sweat of actual writing falls on the celebrity.  Ms. Broadwell might not have been a celebrity before, but obviously her biography alone could help sell books.  And certainly she deserves the credit of getting all the access.

There's not much ready information about his role, but one has the feeling that he must have done a lot of the actual writing, based on her field reports.  Thus, a piece in the Charlotte Observer has him complimenting her accomplishment -- that she was able to write a 400 page biography while being married to a doctor and raising two kids.

Loeb reports that she sent him emails and dictation from Afghanistan.  That actually sounds like a fun way to write a book -- hang out with the general, and then at the end of each day send off an email, or dictate what you remember, and leave it to a seasoned writer to make a book out of it all.  I can't help wondering if he ever caught something in her voice that made him wonder just what the nature of her "access" really was.

[UPDATE 11/12/2012:  As you'll see, this post is not really about Vernon Loeb's role, but since that's what I kicked off with, I feel obligated to say that we now have his take on the situation in the Washington Post.  It sounds like I was basically right about how the bookwriting went, but Loeb says he had no idea of the affair, and I have no reason to doubt that.  He does say he wondered why Petraeus was giving her that kind of access; but then figured that presumably Petraeus thought he had it all under control.]

I'm not trying to bash either Petraeus, Broadwell, or Loeb; I don't know enough about the situation to make any moral judgments, and I don't consider myself much of a moral authority anyway.  I'm just trying to puzzle through some of the peripheral questions about the case.

In my "investigation," I came across the following 10 minute segment from a longer appearance by Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Loeb at "Politics and Prose" in DC.  Store co-owner Bradley Graham, formerly of the Washington Post (but miraculously not related to Katharine Graham or Ben Bradlee) introduced the presentation by referring repeatedly to what "Paula wrote," but he and she both acknowledge that Vernon "helped."  Vernon Loeb is there, but seems to be trying to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible.  He might have jumped up and started talking later in the presentation, but I doubt it.

Ms. B kicked it off by saying that Petraeus had quoted Seneca -- about how "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."  A great quote, and probably very descriptive of the careers of both Ms. Broadwell and General Petraeus.  Unfortunately, tragedy could have been avoided if either of them had known of Seneca's less famous maxim -- "f*ck is what happens when temptation meets importunity."

That just came to me.  I don't know if it works.  Clearly Petraeus was tempted -- who wouldn't have been?  And I assume Ms. B was "importunate" since she clearly wanted access to him so she could write her book.

Like I said, I'm not judging anybody.  But if I were a superstar like Petraeus, on top of the world and all that out in Afghanistan, and someone that attractive and impressive came over just to write my biography, I really can't tell you what I would have done.  I've just never been there.

I am morbidly curious to find out just what the nature of Ms. B's "threatening" or "harassing' emails to the general's female associate were.  That's the piece of the puzzle that's missing for me right now.

The episode seems to converge on the Lisa Nowak episode from 2007 -- the very accomplished and attractive female Navy officer astronaut who wore a diaper on her trip from Texas to Florida (so she wouldn't have to waste time going to the bathroom), where she apparently planned to kidnap her "romantic" competition.  In other words, both cases involve attractive, successful, athletic women who have succeeded in a male-dominated arena.  They were both married to other men at the time of their affairs, and they both had children (Paula Broadwell has two, Lisa Nowak had three).  And yet they both seem to have descended into pure craziness over a man that they couldn't have (i.e. who had moved on, as men tend to do), and potentially threw away everything that they had spent their lives working so hard for.

So to be clear, it's not the sex that troubles me.  That happens.  It's the inability of one party to get over it when it's over (assuming it WAS over with Petraeus and Broadwell; that's another thing I'm curious about).  It happened with Monica Lewinsky as well -- although she's not really at the same level as these other two, she clearly thought that Bill was "the one" for her, long after it was clear that he wasn't.  And it happens on Jerry Springer all the time (or at least it used to; I haven't watched for a while), to men as well as women.  But neither Monica Lewinsky nor Jerry's guests are at the same level as Paula Broadwell and Lisa Nowak.

So the lesson for the rest of us, and especially for those accomplished women out there who feel like they've been replaced by another model:  If he's not all that "into" you anymore, just get over it.  There's too much at stake.  There are plenty of others who would be thrilled to have you around.

One feels bad for these women.  I think it's been scientifically proven that the sex drive itself is a significant component of what causes many men to work hard for great accomplishments and power.  It stands to reason evolutionarily anyway; we all know that power gives access to more women, and some men have figured this out.  So the reward of accomplishment for men is often more sex with more sex partners.  It's not just sex; all other things being equal, the more accomplished a man is, the more likely a woman he finds attractive will fall in love with him.  But what about accomplished women?  Men typically would rather be admired than admire, so the accomplishments can even be a turn-off.  As a consequence, the rewards for women's accomplishments are typically psychic, not sexual. And that turns out to be a poor substitute, at least for some of them.

Hoping for the best for Ms. Broadwell's relationship with her husband.  It's him, and those kids, who should matter the most in her life right now.   But if that doesn't work out, I'd take her in.

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