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Petraeus apology for affair doesn't go far enough

ROBIN ABCARIAN PERSPECTIVE

March 27, 2013|By Robin Abcarian

Glad to see that the self-imposed purda of retired Gen. David Petraeus is coming to an end. 

I am not one who thinks an extramarital affair merits the equivalent of a professional death penalty, but Petraeus’ transgressions with his much younger biographer were so over the top that he really did need to excuse himself from the public sphere for awhile.

And though he has apologized, I don’t think his apology went far enough.

PHOTOS: Political sex scandals

You probably remember the general outlines of the sex scandal that brought him down: Paula Broadwell, 40, an extraordinarily accomplished academic, writer and Army intelligence officer, co-authored “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.” Petraeus, 60, was a rich subject for any biographer -- a four-star general who oversaw coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq before becoming CIA director in 2011.

Thanks to her military background, Broadwell had extraordinary access to Petraeus. She produced a book that critics said was just short of hagiography.  It became abundantly clear why that was so just after her book tour, when news of their affair broke last November

Their affair was revealed after Broadwell sent emails to a woman she apparently thought threatened her relationship with Petraeus and the FBI stepped in to investigate. The whole mess brought a tawdry end to a brilliant career.

On Tuesday, his first public appearance since he resigned as CIA director and retreated to his Virginia home, Petraeus apologized for his misconduct, reported the Times' Alexandra Zavis. 

"Please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters," Petraeus said.  "I know that I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and on a number of others. I can, however, try to move forward in a manner that is consistent with the values to which I subscribed before slipping my moorings and, as best as possible, to make amends to those I have hurt and let down."

The comments, Zavis wrote, are part of  a “rehabilitation” that is being overseen by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, whose A-list clients include Bushes, Clintons, Cheneys and Sarah Palin.

Petraeus’ personal life is his business, and whether those nearest and dearest to him can forgive him is their business.

But here’s what I have trouble forgiving: By so flagrantly violating the necessary boundary between a powerful married male and less powerful married female subordinate, the two of them have injured the idea that men and women can work closely together in purely platonic relationships.

They’ve given credence to the idea that a senior man and junior woman who are collaborating on a book, a project, a speech – whatever -- will eventually tumble into the sack. This issue plagues all workplaces, and does a disservice to women who have much more trouble than men finding mentors to help them up the corporate ladder.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of “Lean In,” an advice book for working women, often talks about the importance of men and women being able to work collaboratively without fear.

“Sixty-four percent of managers in the U.S. say they’re scared to be alone in a room with a woman,” Sandberg said recently during an appearance at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles. “Mentoring is all about being alone in a room with a woman.”

Petraeus didn’t just let down his wife and family. He let down all the women who are coming up in the ranks too, women who deal with unfair stereotypes and bias about their ability to work with men. He owes them an apology too.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

@robinabcarian

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