Information continues to emerge in the strange, increasingly complicated, increasingly tawdry, and entirely all-consuming news story of what at first seemed like a "relatively" simple affair between former CIA head David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell, two married people brought together by runs and the fact that she was writing an incredibly complimentary book about him. There's more—much more (see a timeline of what we know here). By more, I mean more people (including generals and sisters), more apparent tawdriness, more tabloid covers, more scandal, more complexities, fewer shirts, but more communication—20,000 to 30,000 pages of "potentially inappropriate" emails between General John Allen and Jill Kelley, the other married woman, to whom Broadwell allegedly had been sending threatening emails, threatened that Kelley was a rival for Petraeus' affections. That is a lot of email. It's hard to hear oneself think, to know where to start, and where to go, with all that email! But there is a place where a reader might comfortably (or uncomfortably) begin. That's with the first sentence of Elisabeth Bumiller's article in Tuesday's New York Times, a sentence being complimented as a lede worthy of the story to which it belongs. Last night, it was tweeted that this first sentence, which is nearly 60 words long, was, well, "just crazypants." Upon the reflection brought by the morning's light, it seems to have held its charm.
Just the lede of our Petraeus story today is kind of amazing: nyti.ms/TCfDXl— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) November 13, 2012
So what is this epic lede, this one-sentence monolith summarizing the event as we know it at this particular moment?
PERTH, Australia — Gen. John R. Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defense official said early Tuesday was “inappropriate communication'’ with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen as a rival for David H. Petraeus’s attentions by Paula Broadwell, who had an extramarital affair with Mr. Petraeus.
There (I'm starting after the em-dash) you have plentiful proper nouns (General John R. Allen; Afghanistan; Jill Kelley; Tampa, Fla.; David H. Petraeus; Paula Broadwell; Mr. Petraeus). There are three clauses to modify three of those names—Allen, "the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan"; Kelley, "the woman in Tampa, Fla.," with a who clause added to that; Broadwell, "who had an extramarital affair," etc. There are, by my count (and my head is spinning), 8 prepositions; 2 uses of the; and only one and. There are verbs! Is, said, was, was, seen, had. There's quoted material. There are scandalizing nouns, sometimes modified, like rival, attentions, affair (extramarital), and there is a senior defense official and a commander (top, American, NATO) to bring further impact to the whole sordid matter. This is a sentence as jam-packed with stuff, obvious and still hidden, equal parts covert and shirtless, as, you might say, is the story itself. You don't see this sort of lede everyday, so, feast your eyes on it! It has no fewer than six periods.
The Times' lede on the Petraeus scandal sounds like the plot of a soap opera.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/us/…— Justin Saglio (@JustinSaglio) November 13, 2012
Others, however, point out that its flaws lie in precisely its perceived attractions.
57 words, 6 commas, 2 "who" clauses -- this just may retire the Worst New York Times Lede Ever Trophy goo.gl/MQx0M— Peter J. Howe (@PeterHoweNECN) November 13, 2012
There is a lede for everyone, as they say, and in some cases there is more than one, and in some cases, we're just getting started.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.