CNN’s HLN network seemed to have a big scoop Thursday morning: retired Gen. David Petraeus’ first comments to any news outlet since his sudden resignation as CIA director last week.
Except the report from HLN (which used to be known as Headline News Network) didn’t bear any of the hallmarks of the typical TV news scoop. No on-camera interview with Petraeus. No direct quotes from the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. Not even an on-camera appearance from the reporter who talked to Petraeus.
Instead, HLN’s Kyra Phillips phoned in for an interview with the network’s anchor Robin Meade, who emphasized it was Phillips’ day off. What Phillips proceeded to convey to viewers was an account more like one given by a witness to an event than by a reporter covering a sprawling Washington scandal that is now a week old. And in what may be another example of how successfully Petraeus has courted the media, Phillips account included her personal reaction to the news of Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell as well as her personal vouching for Petraeus’ honesty.
“I also have never known him to tell me something that is not true,” Phillips told Meade. Phillips added that she never experienced Petraeus acting “flirtatious” or “inappropriate.” But she did report that Petraeus confidants describe Broadwell as “aggressive” and a woman who “works her magic.”
“Not taking Petraeus off the hook at all, but there are two people, obviously, in this situation,” Phillips said.
It’s unclear how many conversations Phillips has had with Petraeus since Friday — or when they occurred. “Petraeus has been speaking with Phillips since last week,” HLN reported. In introducing her interview with Phillips, Meade said: “David Petraeus has been speaking directly to our own Kyra Phillips, apparently, since the scandal broke, about his affair …”
In a CNN story from Sunday, Nov. 11, Phillips quoted a source saying the retired general is devastated he let his wife down. Petraeus, according to the source, said his spouse, Holly, is “far better than he deserves.” In Thursday’s call with Meade, Phillips attributed the same quote to Petraeus himself.
Phillips could not be reached for comment, and HLN declined to comment, for this story.
The news of the affair hit Phillips hard, she told Meade. “(W)e didn’t even talk about Benghazi at the beginning,” she said Thursday. “It was more of, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in shock. I am sick about this.’” An earlier version of the CNN story online about Phillips’ report said she “knows Petraeus from several interviews.” In her conversation with Meade, Phillips elaborated:
You may remember the exclusive 30-minute live interview I had with him on the anniversary of the Iraq War. Since then, I kept in touch with him. I’ve done a lot of stories on the Wounded Warriors, something that is close to your heart and the challenges in Afghanistan. I even introduced him as the guest of honor at the TAPS Gala in 2010 — the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — a charity I’m very heavily involved with.
Phillips joined CNN in 1999 and moved over to HLN in August 2012. She’s currently based in Atlanta, but has completed four reporting tours in Iraq, according to her bio.
Listen to Phillips’ HLN call below:
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com