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'A Media Maestro'

3:57 PM, Nov 19, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Willy Stern recalls:  

The evening before he was sworn in as CIA chief, I emailed David Petraeus seeking help with a story. The message he sent back is privileged. But I can share that he banged out a 2-page email of approximately 40 sentences. I learned how his last run went, where his aches and pains were, and what spy novel he’d just finished. I also got some meaty on-the-record quotes. That’s the work of a master–disgraced today, to be sure–but a master of the craft of media cultivation.

Wonder why Petraeus got a lot of good ink before his inexplicable fall from grace? Wonder no more. In the world of journalism, I’m a relative nobody so how, one wonders, must Petraeus have treated scribes from the NY Times and Washington Post? Let’s not forget that Petraeus, like all truly sophisticated modern military leaders, never missed an opportunity to make a friend in the media. ...

As the mainstream media wolves gather around the carcass of the indomitable David Petraeus—still indisputably one of the five greatest generals of the last 100 years–I recall another incident some five years back.

It was around 10 a.m. on Sunday, a time when my out-of-town brother David often calls. The phone rang.

“Hey, Willy, it’s David.”

“Yo’ man, what’s up?”

“My public affairs officer said you had questions for me. Let’s do it.”

Heart racing, I feel a fool. “Hello General Petraeus,” I stammer. “Thanks for getting back to me.” I‘d written a profile of then 4-star general for a national running magazine, and had embedded in Iraq in 2007 to research the story. My editor, an insecure and controlling sort of bloke, had a query in almost every line. Now back stateside, I had sheepishly called Petraeus’ PAO, hoping he might be able to get one or two of these inane questions answered.

Instead, it is the general himself on the line. “Willy, I understand we’ve got 26 questions to wade through. Might as well get started.”

More than 90 minutes later, we’re done. That was the work of a media maestro.

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