In 1961, British secretary of war John Profumo had a brief affair with a call girl named Christine Keeler, who, as it happened, was also sleeping with a senior naval attaché posted to the Soviet Union’s embassy in London.
The affair would never have come to light if not for a wildly coincidental series of happenings nearly two years later.
At first, Profumo vehemently denied the allegations in front of Parliament and in private before prime minister Harold Macmillan, with whom he’d been friends for years.
Months later, though, Profumo finally issued a full admission and resigned. But the scandal forced Macmillan’s resignation, too. Why? Because the unrelenting British press painted him as incompetent, sparking an onslaught of criticism both in Parliament and from the public.
Fast forward to this summer. A socialite in Florida receives a series of unwanted but otherwise ordinary emails, calls her FBI agent buddy, who, with powers unlike those of mortal citizens, takes it upon himself to launch an investigation that uncovers an affair between the head of the CIA and the woman who’d sent the emails.
But though the CIA head can be made a target of blackmail—and there are no assurances that the woman with whom he’s having the affair is not, herself, passing along to someone, somewhere, juicy tidbits of intelligence that she had in boxes at home—he’s kept in office for two months, until after the presidential election.
That decision to keep him dangling could only have been made at the upper levels of the Justice Department, almost certainly with the acquiescence/approval of the White House. And it’s nothing less than scandalous.
So where’s the onslaught of criticism? Cries for a thorough bipartisan investigation? Demands to know what the president knew and when he knew it?
Here’s the headline of a Los Angeles Times story yesterday: “David Petraeus scandal hits White House at an awkward time.”
Get that? Reporters consider Obama’s White House a passive victim.
It seems that in 2012 America, corruption is less a cause for alarm than incompetence was in 1963 Britain.