The moment military hero and CIA director David Petraeus resigned in an adultery scandal last week, savvy media consumers knew what was coming: a deluge of salacious, sex-focused news reports that briefly would turn every outlet into some version of TMZ-meets-CNN.
But the emergence of Tampa socialite Jill Kelley at the story's center has exploded that effect like some twisted Real Housewives of Tampa episode, complete with accounts of Kelley and her twin sister ingratiating themselves with two of the most powerful men in America's military and intelligence services.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that Kelley and twin Natalie Khawam used their social connections to Petraeus and the under-investigation Afghanistan commander, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, to secure letters of recommendation in a custody battle Khawam ultimately lost, amid an admonishment from the judge for her lack of "honesty and integrity."
That was only the start, as the world's media turned its attention to Kelley, whose complaint to an FBI agent friend about harassing emails sparked an investigation revealing Petraeus' affair with his biographer.
A deluge of reports Wednesday outlined the social climbing of these two women inside Tampa's social scene, particularly those devoted to the area's high-profile military crowd. Fox News had the most explosive story, citing an unnamed official alleging some of Allen's many emails to Kelley were sexually explicit messages comparable to "phone sex." That would disintegrate assertions made by other unnamed officials in other stories that the messages were simply "flirtatious."
"Obsessed with generals," pronounced the Daily Beast website, describing how Kelley pushed her way into jumping with a team of elite paratroopers. The New York Post noted the media frenzy led reporters to badger the Food Network for footage of the twins' appearance on a 2003 episode of Food Fight — so far unavailable because Hurricane Sandy knocked out the network's online servers.
Even FBI Agent Frederick W. Humphries II, who tried helping Kelley, has entered the media mix. Barred from the case and ridiculed for sending a shirtless photo of himself to Kelley, he has inspired a bold entrepreneur to create a cheeky T-shirt declaring "I am the shirtless FBI agent." Talk about American ingenuity.
Reuters weighed in on the social scene of wealthy volunteers who help local military families, describing how assignments to MacDill have become a sought-after posting in the military, in part due to the efforts of people such as Kelley. The story quoted Aaron Fodiman, publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine, on his friend Kelley: "I like to think of her as a welcome wagon. When a new general's wife arrived and said, 'I want to know where to get my hair done and where to buy a birthday cake for my kids,' they knew they could call Jill and she would always help them. Everybody called Jill."
The unfortunate result: Media have become stalkers, gathered in a swarm outside Kelley's home on Tampa's upscale Bayshore Boulevard, snapping photos and footage through her home's picture window. Petraeus' paramour, biographer Paula Broadwell, got similar treatment, photographed through a window having dinner in her brother's home.
What does all of this have to do with national security or the careers of two men at the top of America's military and intelligence communities?
Who knows? But I'm sure it will make a great Real Housewives series when the dust finally clears.