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 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT