Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Jill Kelley, caught in crossfire of Petraeus scandal

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 5:27 AM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
Jill Kelley looks out the window of her home, with David Petraeus on TV in the background, on November 13, 2012.
Jill Kelley looks out the window of her home, with David Petraeus on TV in the background, on November 13, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Jill Kelley spoke out for the first time about the Petraeus scandal
  • Kelley, cast as the "Other Other Woman," felt badly burned by the media, he says
  • Kurtz says there was no evidence that Kelley had an affair with anyone
  • Kurtz: Jill Kelley, sucked into vortex of scandal, deserves to tell her story

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- Jill Kelley was clearly conflicted as she sat down with me in a downtown Washington office to tell her story for the first time.

There was so much the Tampa socialite wanted to say about being sucked into the vortex of the Gen. David Petraeus scandal, about how she was really just good friends with another top general, John Allen, and about what she sees as the media's unfair treatment of her.

If you recall, the scandal forced Petraeus to resign from his post as CIA director after the FBI, in reading e-mails sent to Kelley, found he had had an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell.

Kelley played another role in the scandal after the FBI investigated whether Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, sent her inappropriate messages.

How media portrayed Jill Kelley
Who is John Brennan?
Panetta jokes about Petraeus

In talking to me, she sensed she needed to be cautious. There were long pauses as she weighed her words, questions she refused to answer. She is not accustomed to dealing with the media and feels badly burned.

Watch: Have the media unfairly tarnished Jill Kelley?

When I walked in for the exclusive sit-down for The Daily Beast, I realized I knew her face well, having seen the images replayed thousands of times. But how much did any of us really know about Kelley?

Already, some snark artists are accusing me of writing a "favorable" piece. My view is that, having been painted as the Other Other Woman in a military sex scandal, Kelley deserves the chance to tell her side of the story.

Watch: Backstage at the inaugural ball, Obama's unsung army

And I circle back to this question: What, exactly, did she do to deserve this? There's no evidence the married mother of three had an affair with anyone, unlike Paula Broadwell, whose romantic liaison with Petraeus led to his downfall as CIA director.

I can't vouch for everything Kelley told me. She wouldn't show me the e-mails that she received anonymously from Broadwell, which Kelley described as threatening. But she did say she was "terrified" and believed she had no choice but to contact the FBI. (Federal prosecutors have declined to bring charges against Broadwell over the matter).

Watch: The media's failure on the Manti Te'o hoax

Nor did Kelley show me any of the e-mails she sent to Allen. We have only her word that they were merely friendly, rather than sexy or flirtatious, as some unnamed government officials have claimed.

But Kelley sent and received those messages on a Yahoo account she shares with her husband, as she has no separate e-mail address. That should tell us something. She even says Allen's wife was copied on many of the notes.

Oh, and she says there weren't 30,000 of them. Not even close. A few hundred, maybe.

To some extent, Kelley bears the blame for the unflattering media portrait of her because she remained silent for nearly three months. I think she understands that now.

Watch: Obama's digital guru talks about unplugging from the Net

But when she told me how dozens of paparazzi ruined her daughter's seventh birthday party by invading her front lawn, I felt embarrassed for the profession.

Even as a sideshow to the Petraeus fiasco, the Jill Kelley saga was a legitimate story, with two top generals coming under scrutiny. But after spending a couple of hours with her, I can't say we handled it terribly well.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT