Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Jill Kelley, caught in crossfire of Petraeus scandal

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
January 23, 2013 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
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
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT