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Good Is Good: David Petraeus And ‘The Cheater News Cycle’

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Tom Matlack is the former CFO of the Providence Journal and is the founder of The Good Men Project, a non-profit charitable corporation based in Rhode Island and dedicated to helping organizations that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk.

There are two kinds of sexual scandals: those that deal with consensual sex and those that deal with sex that is not consensual. One is newsworthy because it’s a crime and one, frankly, is not. Why is it, then, that spend so much time reporting on consensual sex and under-reporting sexual abuse?

Last week we published the tragic suicide note of Trey Malone, an Amherst College student who was abused and did not receive adequate help. The note, and subsequent controversy around our publishing it, haunted me just as it did when I first read it. As if to bookend the week, on Friday, David Petraeus–who is perhaps the most respected general of our time–resigned as CIA Director for having an affair.

The two events gave me an opportunity to think, and experience first hand, what we talk about when it comes to male sexuality and how we are collectively missing the point.

I don’t mean to be flip, but my first reaction on hearing the story was, in light of Trey Malone who fucking cares about David Petraeus having an affair?

I mean really, people, are we just about done with the headlines about Tiger, Arnold, Clinton and all the rest?

We’ve created this beast which is a supposed “news” infrastructure built around the hunt for the next celebrity bad boy found with his pants around his ankles in the consensual loving embrace with someone he shouldn’t be having sex with based on his marital status.

True love is something that we all aspire to find, I believe. We are hardwired to want love and to be loved. And it’s a difficult thing to do and be. If you are human you know that. We all stumble, fight, and love in the best way we know how. And hopefully we find that one person that we can crawl into bed with and know there is no other who could ever take their place.

Somehow we have gotten into this ground-hog day news cycle of powerful men who have sex outside their marriage as the absolute top story at even the most respected news organizations.

I say: shame on all of us.

Tiger Woods is the best golfer of his generation, perhaps of all time. He cheated like crazy and his wife found out, chasing him around with a golf club. That is sad indeed. Tiger was certainly going to have to pay dearly in his personal life for his lack of fidelity. But he didn’t commit any crime. His transgressions didn’t have anything to do with playing golf.

So under what set of national priorities, does it become imperative for Tiger Woods to hold a huge press conference to admit his infidelities?

In a sense we are culpable in the cheater news cycle. They wouldn’t be holding press conferences to disclose cheaters if we weren’t all watching. It’s up to us to put down the obsession just as much as it incumbent on the supposed hard news outlets to stop playing to the lowest common denominator.


There is a flip side to the Petraeus story: how much does the personal ethics of a man count towards how we judge him in the public eye?

David Petraeus is perhaps the best-known general of our time. The Iraq War—started based on misinformation about weapons of mass destruction—was an unmitigated disaster when he took over. He was the one who finally figured out that when your goal is to create democracy, as futile as that might be, you can’t just bomb the shit out the people you are trying to help indiscriminately. You actually have to win their hearts and minds. To the extent we had even the appearance of any success in Iraq it was due to his change in strategy and leadership on the ground.

How does his screwing around with his biographer rank in importance to turning a mass U.S. killing field into something that resembled an attempt to lift up a nation from armed conflict?  I don’t know. You tell me. On Veteran’s Day we might want to think about his service before humiliating him for consensual sex.


The other thing that happened this week, of course, is that we re-elected President Obama. The most popular tweet of all time was of him hugging his wife after he won. A viral YouTube video shows him crying while addressing his campaign staff.

Who the heck knows what happens behind closed doors, but our President certainly seems like he is devoted to his wife and kids. He appears to be a good guy in his personal life.

So my question is whether or not that matters? And if so, how much?

I also got myself into trouble leading up to the election by questioning how much impact the election, however it would turn out, would really have on our country given how broken, in my view, the system is in terms of money in politics and how similar Romney and Obama are on foreign policy, among other things.

Shortly after the election, someone posted an image of dead Afghan babies on my Facebook wall. The question raised in the post was whether President Obama would be held accountable for the death of innocent civilian children across the globe at the hands of the U.S. Military.

Just like putting stories of infidelity ahead of criminal acts of rape is missing the point, the question when it comes to Obama and Petraeus isn’t whether or not they love their wives. That’s a private matter.

It’s whether or not they made the right call when ordering the death of thousands of human beings in the name of freedom.


As the son of Quaker pacifists, I have a strange obsession with war. I want to know what causes us as men to fight. Along with our sexuality it is a defining part of modern manhood that I can never quite understand. But I do try.

Recently I have been reading the book by the Navy Seal who was part of the mission that killed Bin Laden. I also recently re-watched Black Hawk Down, the story of the 1993 ill-fated U.S. action in Somalia.

In both cases, what becomes clear is how little regard our highest trained troops have for our political leadership. They rarely think about the larger significance of their mission. Their loyalty is to the man next to them. No further.


So let’s start telling the truth about war.  And about sexual abuse. And stop worrying about how men and women attempt to find love and screw it up over and over again. The scandals do nothing but obfuscate the most important issues of our time.

or more of Tom's works, as well as other pieces on related topics, go to The Good Men Project Magazine online, here.

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