The focus on the hard-driving personality of Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ partner in the affair, reads like a cartoon version of a successful woman getting her comeuppance. Broadwell was “hardly shy,” “a life-long high achiever” and “prolific” in social media. Early coverage stressed her self-promotion as an author on the talk-show circuit and her lack of journalistic credibility (conveniently glossing over her military background and graduate degrees). Never mind that it’s standard practice for authors to try to sell their books. Her stellar résumé and striking physique were held up as exhibits in a case for a suspicious history of unseemly ambition. …

The corollary of the conniving female harpy, of course, is the feckless male dupe entrapped by forces that are somehow beyond his control. Colleagues and press jumped right on board. Petraeus “let his guard down” with Broadwell, we were helpfully informed. President Obama issued a statement, saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with David and Holly Petraeus,” as if the long-married couple had been jointly victimized by an unexpected calamity. Unnamed staffers whispered about Broadwell’s unprecedented access to Petraeus in tones that suggested, if not Mission Impossible–style code-breaking powers, a slightly nefarious ability to get her way. Left unspoken was the fact that Petraeus — one of the most powerful and respected people in the world — was the one conferring the access.