The media, which has gone all-out in its quest to determine the vital details of the David Petraeus affair, is asking all the right questions. Yesterday, for example, Leslie Kaufman of the Times asked: “The Quandary for Biographers: Get Up Close, but How Personal?”
The answer would seem to be easy: don’t have sex with your biography subject. But for the Times, it’s more complicated than that. Says the Times:
Contemporary biography has always been a tricky balancing act, even before Paula Broadwell demonstrated with her book about David H. Petraeus how the scales can tip decisively the wrong way.
The challenge of writing a biography about a person who is still alive is that an author must first establish trust and a comfort level with a subject, to get access and a free flow of information. But the biographer is still expected to evaluate and expose unsparingly.
The question here isn’t how to write a biography. It’s why Petraeus resigned, why the FBI didn’t tell Congress about the investigation, and what the White House knew – and how all of this ties into Benghazi. Fortunately, the Times is covering what really matters: the nature of the biographer-subject relationship.