Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Opinion

After the laughter, a serious scandal

It was hardly a grand leap of creativity on the part of the professional chin-rubbing classes to draw a comparison between the comely Kardashian lasses and Tampa's fetching sibling ribaldry, Jill Kelley and Natalie Khawam, who have been starring in their own hapless tragi-comedy version of Skyfall.

But the correlation between these women pretty much begins and ends with the exotic looks. The Kardashians, after all, despite their exalted position in popular culture as America's bimbos, have deftly managed to turn their familial vapidness into a thriving, profitable business.

Meanwhile, Jill & Natalie have emerged as the Brontes of Bankruptcy. Let us not forget that for all the fancy houses, lavish parties, plunging necklines, bawdy emails and a vanity faux diplomatic license plate, the Khawam sisters have demonstrated they have a collective grasp of money management somewhere between the Joad family and Haiti.

Gracious, between Jill & Natalie, the sisters almost single-handily have managed to keep Tampa's process server industry afloat.

Jill Kelley has been described as a "socialite" in news accounts of the sex scandal enveloping former CIA director David Petraeus and the email-gate tainting of Gen. Potty Mouth John Allen. This, even though in Tampa's entrenched social circles, Bayshore Boulevard's Perle Mesta-in-Waiting was about as welcome in the city's chi-chi salons as Bubba the Love Sponge.

Regarding the Khawam/Kelley axis of hubris as "socialites" is a bit like thinking of Richard Nixon as a Chippendale dancer. And now that Jill Kelley has had her access to MacDill Air Force Base yanked, she has become persona non canape with her former military pals.

We all know the sordid story by now. Former big-shot general turned First Spook has a fling with his biographer Paula Broadwell, who bears an amazing resemblance to Sean Young, who once played the paramour of a secretary of defense in No Way Out, where that relationship also didn't turn out so well.

Then Broadwell decides to go all Glenn Close/Alex Forrest on everyone and starts sending threatening emails to Kelley, who was Petraeus' caviar pusher during his time in Tampa. And that eventually leads to the discovery of Allen's salacious locker-room emails to Kelley.

So much for all that officer and a gentlemen fiddle-faddle.

To be sure, this Schadenfreude-fest has been too compelling to ignore. Powerful generals caught with their libidos down. A peeved mistress armed with a keyboard. Two social-climbing sisters exposed for having all the social graces of Ma Kettle. And then a shirtless FBI agent shows up in Kelley's email, too, merely for the sheer Naked Gun absurdity of it all.

Still, some disquieting questions linger among the rustled sheets, generals in raincoats searching for their inner Larry Flynt, the Sister Wackos and the beefcake FBI boy.

Nothing spoils a perfectly delightful scandal involving power, lust and ambition more than the intrusion of seriousness.

Long after the cameras are folded up in front of the Declasse Doyenne's underwater mansion on Bayshore Boulevard, we are still left to wonder just how did David Petraeus and John Allen find themselves transformed in the time it takes to unsnap a bra or hit the send button from bold, visionary military figures to General Halftrack chasing Miss Buxley around?

Petraeus, both in uniform and at the CIA, was supposed to be a cunning, brilliant strategist and consummate consumer of intelligence data. Allen also was supposed to be an expert on military planning and outmaneuvering the enemy.

And yet both Petraeus, by his affair, and Allen, by sending sexually explicit emails to a married woman when he should have been paying attention to killing the Taliban, instead come off as silly, horny middle-aged men.

Both Petraeus and Allen allowed themselves to be led around by Natalie Khawam, who persuaded them to write letters on her behalf to a judge presiding over a bitter child custody fight. The men wrote of her solid character and loving nature, while the judge in the case had concluded Khawam was a duplicitous, untruthful, conniving basket case.

Two men, supposedly experts in intelligence, never bothered to look a bit deeper into the integrity of someone they were vouching for in a legal matter? How scary is that?

Both men were charged with projecting American strength, power and seriousness of purpose to friends and foes alike. Instead we got the leering Marx Brothers of Central Command.

Who could ever take two chaps with a case of Semper La-Di-Da, La Di-Da seriously again?