Roger Ailes, the longtime Republican media guru, founder of Fox News and its current chairman, had some advice last year for then-Gen. David H. Petraeus.
So in spring 2011, Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.
The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.
McFarland also said that Ailes — who had a decades-long career as a Republican political consultant, advising Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — might resign as head of Fox to run a Petraeus presidential campaign. At one point, McFarland and Petraeus spoke about the possibility that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp., which owns Fox News, would “bankroll” the campaign.
“Rupert’s after me as well,” Petraeus told McFarland.
McFarland said she had spoken “directly” to the Fox News chairman and the “advice to you from Roger Ailes is. . . . He says that if you’re offered [JCS] chairman, take it. If you’re offered anything else, don’t take it; resign in six months and run for president.”
Petraeus demurred, saying he would consider the CIA directorship if Obama offered it, as the president did several weeks later. Petraeus was confirmed and sworn in as director on Sept. 6, 2011. He resigned a year later, on Nov. 9, after the disclosure of an extramarital affair with his biographer.
In a telephone interview Monday, the wily and sharp-tongued Ailes said he did indeed ask McFarland to make the pitch to Petraeus. “It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have,” he said. “I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate.”
Ailes added, “It sounds like she thought she was on a secret mission in the Reagan administration. . . . She was way out of line. . . . It’s someone’s fantasy to make me a kingmaker. It’s not my job.” He said that McFarland was not an employee of Fox but a contributor paid less than $75,000 a year.
Petraeus, Murdoch and McFarland did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment.
When McFarland first said she had a message directly from Ailes, Petraeus said, “With no one else in the room, I hope?”