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If David Petraeus can’t cover his tracks, no one can

Updated: December 13, 2012 10:33AM



It’s so much easier for period-piece characters to have an affair.

“Boardwalk Empire” is set in the early 1920s. When Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson was involved with a woman outside his marriage, he could disappear to New York for a couple of days and not have to worry about a trail of credit card receipts and text messages dogging his every step. (Not that it was smart of Nucky to take his mistress to the same clothing shop where his wife once worked, but that’s another story.)

“Mad Men” is set in the 1960s. When Jon Hamm’s Don Draper hooks up with a woman he met in a hotel bar, there’s no concern about getting caught on a hotel security camera or his wife checking the American Express statement to nail him with the evidence of his tryst.

A real-life veteran of the 1960s once told me, “You could disappear back then. Just fall off the grid for a weekend.”

This is why maybe 99 percent of us don’t believe someone such as Stacey Peterson is actually missing — enjoying a secret life in some tropical paradise, unencumbered by credit cards or phone records or Google Earth or any of the other hundred ways you can be spotted even when you’re trying really hard not to be spotted. Even if you believe a young mother would abandon her children and never once try to make contact with the kids or any other family member, the chances of her flying under the radar for five years in the 21st century are much slimmer than someone trying to pull off a disappearing act 50 or even 20 years ago.

Whether you’re trying to go missing or you’re trying to keep an affair secret, you’re facing challenges previous generations never dreamed about. Doesn’t mean it’s not happening and it doesn’t mean thousands of people aren’t beating the system (so far) — using second cell phones and separate email accounts and changing passwords and making sure they don’t get Instagrammed doing the wrong thing with the wrong person at the wrong time — but it’s exhausting just thinking about everything one must do to maintain the charade.

Of the 6,973,738,433 people on this planet, you’d think the director of the CIA and the woman with whom he was having an affair would understand that better than about 6,973,738,400 of their fellow humans.

From Petraeus to Betray-Us?

A week ago, David Petraeus was a man of great renown — a four-star general with 37 years of service in the United States Army and for the last year, the director of the CIA.

Now he’s a New York Post headline. There are Petraeus and his biographer/lover Paula Broadwell (talk about a name we could have seen in the credits of “Skyfall”) on the front page, and the headline: CLOAK AND SHAG HER

The Pulitzer Prize people really should give the Post some kind of lifetime achievement award for those headlines.

We’re told the story started unraveling when a State Department official contacted the FBI and said Broadwell was sending her threatening messages. Broadwell, 40, allegedly told the woman to “back off” and “stay away from my guy.” The FBI’s probe into those emails led to the discovery of emails between Broadwell and Petraeus. And that’s how an affair becomes a matter of national security, and the director of the CIA resigns. (Meanwhile, Broadwell’s husband had to send out an email to a number of people, including several reporters, telling them Broadwell’s 40th birthday celebration in Washington was canceled. Yikes.)

Who knows what was on those email exchanges between the general and his mistress? The content most likely wasn’t that different than the content of a million other exchanges between people who are in such a relationship. But the classic question — “What were you thinking?” — immediately leaps to mind when we’re talking about the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. You’d think Petraeus of all people would have had a conversation with Ms. Broadwell in which they agreed to never, ever, ever say anything via email, text, etc., that would reveal their tryst.

Now we’ve got a huge scandal and devastated families and clever headlines and jokes about the title of her book about him (“All In”) and the obligatory “Weekend Update” jokes on “Saturday Night Live” and updated Wikipedia entries. What a mess.

Before the news broke last Friday, Broadwell had just over 1,000 followers on Twitter. Now she has 5,500 and counting — but of course she’s not tweeting anything anymore. One of the last tweets she posted stated, “Pls do eliminate negative energies! POSITIVITY, and a good attitude, are the keys!”

That and always keeping in mind that whenever you hit the “send” button, you can never unsend it.



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