THE BLOG
11/19/2012 11:31 am ET | Updated Jan 19, 2013

Keeping Up With David Petraeus: In the Game of Success, Is Scandal Par for the Course?

A military hero, a young biographer, an FBI investigation.

A foreign affair in Kabul, a clandestine communications technique favored by al Qaeda, a book entitled All In. A Tampa socialite suffocated by debt, whose twin sister is battling custody, and crisis-management experts linked to Monica Lewinsky, John Edwards and the ABC show Scandal.

Is this the next season of Homeland or the recent affair involving retired Gen. David Petraeus -- wartime hero, head of the Central Intelligence Agency and mastermind behind the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine?

Until Friday, many considered Petraeus, or "King David," the greatest military mind since Eisenhower. After admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Petraeus lost his position as head of the CIA and the nation's respect.

What's most upsetting about all this is that I'm not surprised. When it comes to male leaders, the salacious has become the standard. Reality television has become reality and this episode is one in a series with the likes of Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can't help but wonder: Is moral misconduct just what happens in the world of the rich and famous? Is it a function of celebrity? Are these men victims of their environment or is this a coincidence of bad character?

As Petraeus often said, character is what you do when no one was watching. Maybe our national spotlight is a little too bright. But when you're Gen. Petraeus, someone is always watching. Fame does not bring freedom -- sexual or otherwise. These men have a moral responsibility both as leaders and role models. Within their respective careers, they set an ethical standard for young professionals and aspiring leaders.

Jacey Eckhart, who edits the spouse page for military.com, lamented the loss of Petraeus as a role model for military families. In an interview with the New York Times, she said, "The sense was they had a strong marriage, that this was a functioning relationship, that they had good kids. It's one of those relationships that you look up to: if they can do it, we can do it."

On Tuesday, the CEO of Waffle House Joe Rogers Jr. joined Petraeus when his extramarital affair surfaced. Rogers made headlines for allegedly raping and blackmailing his former housekeeper. Two days before, in a different but equally offensive vein, former cycling champion Lance Armstrong tweeted a defiant picture of himself lounging in front of the seven Tour de France jerseys he amassed while competing on performance enhancing drugs. This picture was retweeted over 10,000 times.

Where have all our male role models gone?

Penn students have many alumni to look up to. But then there are the likes of Petraeus, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws at this year's commencement. There are alumni like Raj Rajaratnam, Courtney Dupree and Rajiv Goel -- who were convicted for securities fraud and insider trading between 2009 and 2012. Aspiring politicians at Penn have former Pennsylvania state senator and 1984 MBA graduate Vince Fumo -- who was convicted of conspiracy and fraud in 2009 -- to look up to.

I'm worried about the standards set by alumni and the element of scandal that seems so closely intertwined with their success. Future leaders, CEOs, politicians, pacesetters and change-makers will be graduating with me in May. Should we accept cheating, performance-enhancing drugs, extramarital affairs or insider trading as part of the path to leadership? The ubiquity of scandal among our leaders make these incidents seem like the side effects of achievement. Will my two younger brothers, who are now in college, feel the need to sacrifice morality in pursuit of success?

As for myself, senior year has placed me on the brink of reality (TV or otherwise). I'll happily keep up with Petraeus in the Kardashian sense. But in today's world, is the pressure to "keep up" pressure to compromise ethics?

This post originally appeared in the Daily Pennsylvanian.

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