Fox News pushed Petraeus for presidency

Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 00:00

Roger Ailes, the founder and chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News corporation, sent an emissary to Gen David Petraeus when he was still commander of all forces in Afghanistan, asking Petraeus to stand for president and offering to bankroll his campaign.

The revelation confirms Fox’s role as an appendage of the Republican party and illustrates yet again the Australian-born Murdoch’s tendency to involve himself in the politics of countries where he has built his media empire.

The Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward of Watergate fame obtained a digital recording from a 90-minute conversation between Kathleen McFarland, a national security analyst for Fox News, and Gen Petraeus in his office in Kabul on April 16th, 2011. It is not clear how Woodward obtained the recording, or why the Post published Woodward’s account in its style section, as opposed to a more prominent slot in the news pages.

Message from Ailes

Ms McFarland worked for three Republican administrations, including as a senior aide to Richard Nixon’s secretary of state Henry Kissinger and as a Pentagon spokesperson under Ronald Reagan. She told Gen Petraeus that she had a message directly from Ailes, who reportedly earns $20 million annually as Murdoch’s top executive in the US.

Until he was forced to resign over a still murky sex scandal last month, Gen Petraeus was the US’s most admired general. He had made clear to President Barack Obama that he wanted to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (JCS). Ailes’s advice to Gen Petraeus, Ms McFarland said, was “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. Okay?”

“Rupert’s after me as well,” Gen Petraeus said.

He declined the proposal, but in a light-hearted way that seemed to leave the door open. He said he “would love to see” Ailes on his next trip to New York and called the Republican media mogul “a brilliant guy”.

If he ever stood for president, Gen Petraeus continued, “I’d take him up on his offer . . . He said he would quit Fox . . . and bankroll it . . . Or maybe I’m confusing that with Rupert.”

Ailes (72) “has done okay”, McFarland said, “but . . . no, I think the one who’s bankrolling it is the big boss . . . the big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house.”

Gen Petraeus, Murdoch and Ms McFarland did not respond to Woodward’s requests for comment, but Ailes confirmed he had asked Ms McFarland to make the offer to Gen Petraeus. “I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate,” Ailes said. Ailes had earlier approached New Jersey governor Chris Christie with a similar proposal, New York Magazine reported.

Fox routinely puts failed Republican politicians such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on its payroll. But Ms McFarland’s overture to Gen Petraeus took chuminess between Fox and politicians to new heights.

“Everybody at Fox loves you,” Ms McFarland said, adding that Ailes told her to ask, “Is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?”


Ironically, in view of Gen Petraeus’s subsequent affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, he joked, “My wife would divorce me [if he stood for president]. And I love my wife.” He and Ms McFarland laughed. They discussed the importance of his and her bathrooms for a happy marriage, and Gen Petraeus lamented that he’d never spent a night in the “beautiful house” he shared with his wife, Holly.

Beyond the more salacious aspects of the story, the Petraeus-Fox recording underscored how the balance of power has shifted from the military to the CIA. Eight days after the conversation, President Obama announced Petraeus’s appointment as head of the agency.

Gen Petraeus explained to McFarland why he was interested in becoming the US’s top spy. “An awful lot of what we do in the future – believe it or not in Libya right now, perhaps – is what that organisation can do,” the general said. “We are going to be retrenching militarily. Again, you’re going to take big budget cuts . . . The other folks, on the other hand, I think are going to be in a growth industry – our intelligence community.”

* Rupert Murdoch’s mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, has died in Australia, aged 103, at her home outside Melbourne and is survived by three children and 77 direct descendants, including five great-great grandchildren. She would have been 104 in January.

Mr Murdoch (81) regards his mother’s long life as evidence he will be able to carry on running News Corporation to an advanced age. – (Guardian service)