If this isn’t an endearingly Philly headline, I don’t know what is: “Petraeus email trail has Philly link.” No matter what the big national story of the moment is, our local media and Philly boosters (guilty on both counts) will ferret out some connection, no matter how tenuous, to the city we live in. It’s like Philadelphia is the nerd sitting with the popular girls and trying really hard to get into the conversation. “You guys went to the Lady Gaga concert last night? Um, well, I saw her on TV!”
Journalists for city publications often do this—turn a story local—as a matter of course. Haitian earthquake? Find some Haitians who live in Philly and see if they lost any family members. Gay marriage legalized in D.C.? Talk to gay people in Philly and see if they’re going to drive down there to get married. It’s a pretty simple formula for local publications, which have to be part of a larger conversation while still telling the story of the community they serve. In fact, I’m willing to bet that right now, somewhere in the country, there’s an editor stifling a yawn and saying to a room full of writers: “So, is there any way into the Petraeus story? A local angle?”
It’s rare that a writer under such strictures discovers a bona fide, unique connection—something no other city can claim. When we do have a singular hook into a national issue, it’s often negative. Who wants to be featured on TV every night in connection with Rick Santorum? Even those of us desperate for acknowledgement from the outside world have standards.
In the case of l’affaire Petraeus, the connection to the national story isn’t especially positive or negative, perhaps because its hardly a connection at all. Here’s the scoop: The FBI investigation that revealed David Petraeus’s extramarital affair was spurred by complaints filed by Jill Kelley, who alleged she was getting threatening emails from Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s mistress. As it turns out, Jill Kelley grew up in the Northeast. No, really. That’s it.
Here’s the backstory, as carefully revealed by the DN‘s Barbara Laker:
Kelley’s parents, Marcelle and John Khawam, came to the Philadelphia area in the mid 1970s. … Marcelle was an accomplished cook who entertained people in the arts and politics, according to a December 1988 Philadelphia Inquirer feature about Middle Eastern food for Christmas.
At that time, the family lived in the Northeast Philadelphia and ran a small Middle Eastern restaurant, Sahara, in Voorhees, N.J.
The family later moved to Huntingdon Valley and as Jill Kelley grew older, she moved to Philadelphia where she worked in public relations in 1998, before moving to Tampa around 2000 or so.
Poor Laker. Here she is, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, and she’s hunched over her computer, scanning public tax records, so the public can know that Jill Kelley’s brother David lives in Mount Laurel.
Though stories like these do make me laugh, I can’t say I don’t read them. In fact, Barbara Laker, let me say this: The next time you have to exert your superior investigative skills in the pursuit of a brother’s ex-friend’s sister-in-law’s daughter’s Philadelphia connection to a national story, I’m available to do your legwork. Sad to say, nothing would thrill me more.