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Melinda Henneberger: The modern marketing of scandal babes

A skit on a recent "Saturday Night Live" showed an endless loop of Tampa, Fla. socialite and suspected e-mail flirt Jill Kelley, who is pen pals with Gen. John Allen, walking down some stairs and getting into a car.

For variety's sake, we then saw the clip shown backward, in slow-mo and a reenactment featuring a plus-size female impersonator.

As my southern-drawling friend Rose says, behind every tease is just a little bitta truth.

The sketch works because it so perfectly captures the treadmill of the scandal babe, and of the made-for-TV reality in which it's no surprise that photographers captured evidence of a caged-looking Paula Broadwell - biographer and intimate friend of former CIA head and retired Gen. David Petraeus (and alleged Kelley cyberstalker) - having a glass of wine at her brother's house this week.

No surprise, either, that one enterprising photographer was injured when Broadwell, making a run for it, swung open her car door and smacked her in the face.

Inadvertently, the shooter thinks.

For a reminder that even this kookiness is progress of a sort, check out "A Royal Affair," a beautiful Danish movie about what happened when Queen Caroline Mathilde took an extramarital stroll on the rumored-to-be-gay, definitely-mentally-ill cousin she was forced to marry in 1766.

Yes, society has become less hard on women in trouble since life in 19th-century Russia inspired Leo Tolstoy's tragic adulteress Anna Karenina in the 1870s.

Today, Karenina would simply hire Gloria Allred or Judy Smith.

Allred held a news conference at the Ritz on Tuesday to explain that her latest client, Natalie Khawam, sister of Kelley's, had been wronged in the public eye.

What, you didn't know Khawam was in the public eye, other than in that one photo with her sister?

Think harder and you might recall that Petraeus, a family friend, and Allen, her twin's e-mail correspondent, went to bat for her in family court, telling a judge that she's an excellent mom and shouldn't have had her child taken away (a la both Karenina and Queen Caroline Mathilde.)

Theoretically, the point of the news conference was to set the record straight, but really, it was one big bragathon, a pre-Thanksgiving festival of moment milking.

Allred read a statement about her client's credentials, resume and mothering skills.

The larger point, she said, was that "Natalie is just one of the many mothers in this country who has been forced to suffer because of family court decisions."

She wanted to publicly thank David and Holly Petraeus for having "loved Natalie's child and emotionally supported her and her son through the toughest time in Natalie and her son's life. . . . They did so when they learned that she was being unfairly portrayed and was a victim of injustice."

Then Allred refused to answer any questions about what she was even talking about.

In her turn at the microphone, Khawam wiped away tears and, as Allred braced her arm, spoke of her sister: "Jill and I aren't just twins; we're best friends. We're literally inseparable."

Well not literally, but they did play varsity tennis together. "She played net, and I served."

They played softball, too. "She was the catcher, and I pitched."

They also enjoy piano, chess and cooking. "I usually bake, and she likes to saute."

Allred has championed some important clients and causes over the decades, taking on pedophile priests, deadbeat dads, AIDS discrimination and caddish behavior of every flavor.

She and Smith, the crisis consultant who is the basis of the TV show "Scandal," might well have kept Caroline on the throne and headed off Anna's final fling in the railway station.

But the client who stood before the cameras Tuesday was there to demand the entirety of her 15 minutes on the cable stairmaster, and she should hope the family judge didn't see it.

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dropped by "Sesame Street" to let the Muppets and her audience know that although dressing up like a princess is fun, it isn't a J-O-B.

Well, "scandal babe" isn't a career, either, no matter how big the book advance. (And Monica Lewinsky, seriously, I know you earned every penny in damages.)

Although even royal runaway wives are no longer in mortal peril, we aren't quite at scandal parity even now. How is it that Newt Gingrich can come through any number of misadventures and live to weigh in on national television about where Petraeus went wrong?

Occasionally, however, a woman not only endures such a frenzy but nearly makes us forget it ever happened. You don't look at Vanessa Williams and think of those pictures from 1,000 years ago, do you?

And shouldn't that be the post-imbroglio goal, instead of laying claim to every last one of those minutes in the bright, negative light?

Henneberger is a political writer for The Washington Post and anchors the Post's She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.


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