Sheena Greitens may be standing by her scandal-plagued husband, Republican Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. But a rare glimpse into the trans-Atlantic social circle of the publicity-shy first lady indicates she doesn’t stand by his conservative politics.
In an online falling-out with an old friend, Sheena Greitens chides her for writing a British magazine article that appears to “equate my husband’s political views with my own.” Greitens calls the assumption “quite frankly bizarre.”
The friend retorted on Facebook: “The Sheena I knew would not have stayed in this marriage.”
The latest (and probably first international) ripple from Gov. Greitens’ recent scandals began with an essay this month in the London Review of Books by Deborah Friedell, an editor there.
Friedell, an American, writes of coming to England years ago on a Marshall Scholarship. Among fellow scholarship winners on the plane was the future Sheena Greitens (then Sheena Chestnut), a Washington state native.
“[W]e drove around Scotland, and went to a lot of plays. ... In as much as I thought I could know someone, I thought I knew her,” writes Friedell. “... [W]hat made her exceptional, I thought at the time, was her kindness.”
Later, back in the U.S., Sheena met Greitens and they were soon engaged. Sheena’s friend, learning of Greitens’ stellar résumé’ of academic, military and philanthropic achievement, noted “how wonderful he seemed.”
“He was a Jewish Navy SEAL Rhodes Scholar,” Friedell writes. “How many of those are there in the world?”
But even then, Friedell writes, “some friends had said that Eric had made them feel uncomfortable.” She added that “I’d been disappointed when Sheena agreed to limit her job search to Missouri, because that’s where Eric wanted to live.” (That’s one of several claims Sheena Greitens would later dispute.)
“I didn’t go to the wedding: because of what I had heard about him, or because I didn’t want to fly out to the West Coast? A bit of both,” Friedell writes. “I sent Sheena a couple of cake tins from her list.”
Later, Friedell writes, she watched from afar as her friend’s husband made his political about-face from Democrat to conservative Republican in the run-up to his gubernatorial campaign. The author makes clear her own politics in her description of it.
“In the first four years after their wedding, if his name came up, I’d say: ‘At least he’s a Democrat.’ We all knew he would eventually run for office: why else had they moved to his home state?” she writes. “I had almost stopped thinking about him when he published an article on FoxNews.com in the summer of 2015 with the headline ‘Former Navy Seal: Why I am no longer a Democrat’, a prelude to his running for governor.”
The article goes on to recount Greitens’ campaign for governor, with its machine-gun machismo and dark-money funding.
“I wrote to Sheena that I had been thinking about ‘how difficult/gruelling/bonkers a gubernatorial race can be. I can’t tell you how much I wish you would just fly to London for a long weekend of anonymity, museuming & hot chocolate,’” Friedell writes. “Most of my notes were like that: telling her that I missed her, sympathising with how busy she must be, but not mentioning Eric, or saying that I hoped he would win.”
In the article, Friedell recalls watching Missouri’s 2016 election returns from overseas while tweeting with St. Louis-based novelist Curtis Sittenfield — “the only person I could think of who lived in Missouri” other than the Greitenses — and pondering Sittenfield’s novel “American Wife.” In it, she notes, a Laura Bush-like character “decides she can’t be blamed for what her husband did in office: ‘All I did is marry him. You are the ones who gave him power.’ But she also knows that he wouldn’t have won without her.”
Once Greitens was in office, Friedell recounts his policy stances against gun control, abortion rights, minimum-wage increases. “Eric was now often referred to as Mike Pence’s favourite governor,” wrote Friedell. “I sat in London obsessing about what was happening back home, feeling furious and powerless.”
She goes on to outline the exposure of Greitens’ extramarital affair and the related allegations and criminal charges — and the fact that Sheena “was sticking by her husband.”
Friedell promoted the piece on her Twitter account May 12, writing: “On the night (Donald) Trump was elected president, the Republican husband of an old friend won the race to be Governor of Missouri. I didn’t take it well. My story about Eric Greitens, ambition, obsession & disgrace.”
In a subsequent post to a Facebook discussion group, Sheena Greitens — now an assistant political science professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia — forcefully took issue with the piece, alleging it is full of “mischaracterizations and basic factual errors about my life.”
“Deborah Friedell never reached out to me during her writing, nor did the piece undergo basic fact-checking,” Greitens wrote, according to a screenshot that the Post-Dispatch obtained of the post, which has since been deleted. She disputes the claim that she’d limited her job search to Missouri and other issues raised in the article.
Greitens added: “The piece also seems — again, without any basis or inquiry about this by the author — to equate my husband’s political views with my own, which is quite frankly bizarre. ... [I] have maintained an independent professional and public identity in my sphere of policy expertise.”
A Post-Dispatch request for comment from Sheena Greitens via the governor’s office drew an emailed response from Gov. Greitens’ spokesman, Parker Briden: “If the Post-Dispatch finds it newsworthy that a woman may have political perspectives independent of her husband, they are out of touch and have truly sunk to a new low.”
Sheena Greitens, in her post, chides Friedell for “trading on a past friendship ... to sit in public judgment,” calling it “distasteful.”
Friedell’s article had opened by describing how she often tells people “My Sheena story,” calling it “my best story, the anecdote that rarely failed.”
Sheena Greitens retorted: “My pain, and that of my family, should not be anyone’s byline opportunity. It also shouldn’t be anyone’s cocktail party story.”
Friedell responded on Facebook, acknowledging the article was incorrect in claiming Sheena was on a campaign bus tour, while disputing her other assertions.
Friedell didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to her London publication.