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When Washington Post Metro editor Vernon Loeb fessed up about CIA Director David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, with whom he had co-authored a book about Petraeus, he compared himself to Nick Carraway watching Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald was probably too high-minded of an analogy for Petraeus’ downfall; instead, Loeb should have looked to any of the current television series set in this city. They’re perfectly trashy.
As seen on TV, D.C. has tumbled a long way from the well-heeled optimism of The West Wing, and into a soapy steam pot in which the national interest is secondary to the unfastening of a belt buckle. On the anti-terror serial Homeland, Carrie Mathison, a brilliant but unhinged CIA officer played by Claire Danes, would arrest war-hero-cum-Qaeda-sleeper Nicholas Brody if she wasn’t too busy sleeping with him. Political Animals reimagines what Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life might be if she had responded to her husband’s philandering like one of the ladies on Sex and the City. Scandal does it one better, charting the sexual brinkmanship between a PR firm and a presidential administration. The characters in Veep keep their pants on more, though they’re quicker to knife each other in the back.
It’s fun to point out the dissimilarities between these programs and actual life, to say nothing of the endless gag reel of geographic errors featuring the skylines and transit systems of the cities where they are shot. Then again, the most celebrated American soldier of the past 20 years was undone because he got caught boffing his biographer. Maybe they’re not so far off, after all.