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Jill Kelley, caught in crossfire of Petraeus scandal

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 5:27 AM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
Jill Kelley looks out the window of her home, with David Petraeus on TV in the background, on November 13, 2012.
Jill Kelley looks out the window of her home, with David Petraeus on TV in the background, on November 13, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Jill Kelley spoke out for the first time about the Petraeus scandal
  • Kelley, cast as the "Other Other Woman," felt badly burned by the media, he says
  • Kurtz says there was no evidence that Kelley had an affair with anyone
  • Kurtz: Jill Kelley, sucked into vortex of scandal, deserves to tell her story

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- Jill Kelley was clearly conflicted as she sat down with me in a downtown Washington office to tell her story for the first time.

There was so much the Tampa socialite wanted to say about being sucked into the vortex of the Gen. David Petraeus scandal, about how she was really just good friends with another top general, John Allen, and about what she sees as the media's unfair treatment of her.

If you recall, the scandal forced Petraeus to resign from his post as CIA director after the FBI, in reading e-mails sent to Kelley, found he had had an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell.

Kelley played another role in the scandal after the FBI investigated whether Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, sent her inappropriate messages.

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In talking to me, she sensed she needed to be cautious. There were long pauses as she weighed her words, questions she refused to answer. She is not accustomed to dealing with the media and feels badly burned.

Watch: Have the media unfairly tarnished Jill Kelley?

When I walked in for the exclusive sit-down for The Daily Beast, I realized I knew her face well, having seen the images replayed thousands of times. But how much did any of us really know about Kelley?

Already, some snark artists are accusing me of writing a "favorable" piece. My view is that, having been painted as the Other Other Woman in a military sex scandal, Kelley deserves the chance to tell her side of the story.

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And I circle back to this question: What, exactly, did she do to deserve this? There's no evidence the married mother of three had an affair with anyone, unlike Paula Broadwell, whose romantic liaison with Petraeus led to his downfall as CIA director.

I can't vouch for everything Kelley told me. She wouldn't show me the e-mails that she received anonymously from Broadwell, which Kelley described as threatening. But she did say she was "terrified" and believed she had no choice but to contact the FBI. (Federal prosecutors have declined to bring charges against Broadwell over the matter).

Watch: The media's failure on the Manti Te'o hoax

Nor did Kelley show me any of the e-mails she sent to Allen. We have only her word that they were merely friendly, rather than sexy or flirtatious, as some unnamed government officials have claimed.

But Kelley sent and received those messages on a Yahoo account she shares with her husband, as she has no separate e-mail address. That should tell us something. She even says Allen's wife was copied on many of the notes.

Oh, and she says there weren't 30,000 of them. Not even close. A few hundred, maybe.

To some extent, Kelley bears the blame for the unflattering media portrait of her because she remained silent for nearly three months. I think she understands that now.

Watch: Obama's digital guru talks about unplugging from the Net

But when she told me how dozens of paparazzi ruined her daughter's seventh birthday party by invading her front lawn, I felt embarrassed for the profession.

Even as a sideshow to the Petraeus fiasco, the Jill Kelley saga was a legitimate story, with two top generals coming under scrutiny. But after spending a couple of hours with her, I can't say we handled it terribly well.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

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