Instant Message or Instant Embarrassment: Students Weigh in on What CIA Director David Petraeus’ Resignation Means for Morality

General Petraeus has captured headlines, distracting from current issues and focusing media attention on his personal life.

At some point or another, most people have been told by a teacher, parent or friend to be careful about what they put on the Internet. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) General David Petraeus apparently did not heed this advice.

Petraeus admitted having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell when a federal investigation into Broadwell allegedly found sexually explicit emails sent from what The Week magazine calls “an insecure Gmail account” belonging to Petraeus. The Gmail system from which Petraeus was communicating is the same one that houses emails of Mercy students and staff.

Petraeus has publicly admitted that he exercised “extremely poor judgment.” In a digital era of quickly disseminated information and habitual scandals, what exactly constitutes “poor judgment?”

“I think that Americans have set very high standards of decency for men and women who hold public office,” said Isabelle Larson, senior, who is a member of Jr. ROTC and an AP Government student. “We would all like to have representatives with very strong moral compasses so that we know they have our best interests at heart. However there comes a point where we have to accept that people are flawed.”

Chloe Constantakis, senior, disagrees. “It disgusts me that men or women cannot stay true to someone. Why be married?”

“Personal infidelity has unfortunately become too common in today’s government,” said Gabriella D’Agostini, a senior AP Government student. “As a result, resignation seems to be the most noble way to deal with a scandal, causing powerful leaders to sacrifice their occupations for an affair. That does not sound very decent to me.”

Although it may seem irrelevant, the Petraeus scandal echoes one of the most elemental lessons of cyber-decency: don’t post anything online that you may ever want kept secret. Like it or not, even the emails sent from your Mercy email account are not private. Google scans and stores each email, using the information to send targeted advertisements to your computer.

The Petraeus scandal certainly proves undoubtedly that Americans still expect a high level of moral character from their leaders. “The question is,” says Larson, “is where the American people will draw that line.”