What a world it would have been had Roger Ailes gotten his way last year, when he recruited one of his Fox News lieutenants to talk David Petraeus into running against Obama in 2012. Can you imagine how much fun the Petraeus affair would've been if it had happened in the middle of a presidential campaign? Or what if Ailes had gotten his wish and secured the job as Petraeus's campaign manager? Dear God, what if Ailes actually got a job in the White House? Again!
All this could've been true. According to a new report from Bob Woodward at The Washington Post, Ailes sent Fox News national security analyst Kathleen T. McFarland to Afghanistan to talk him into a fast-track career in politics. Woodward explains that McFarland, who used to work at the Pentagon, relayed a message from Ailes that Petraeus should ask Obama for the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and if Obama refused, he should run against him for president.
It gets better. Ailes also suggested, via McFarland, that if Petraeus did decide to run, he might step down from his post as Fox News chief in order to run the general's campaign. He stipulated that Rupert Murdoch might be willing to "bankroll" his campaign. "Rupert's after me as well," Petraeus responded. (It's unclear if he meant to punctuate that sentence with a question mark or an exclamation point. Petraeus's ultimate reason for not running hits home.) "My wife would divorce me," he added. "And I love my wife."
Don't doubt Woodward's report. For one, he's the guy that nailed Nixon, Ailes's old boss. Woodward also got the whole exchange on tape. (You can listen to it here.) What's fun about this story, though, is Ailes's explanation. "It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have," said Ailes. "I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate." He summarily blamed the shadiness of the conversation on McFarland, who he said sounded "like she thought she was on a secret mission in the Reagan administration."
We'd believe you, Roger, if there weren't such a long paper trail showcasing your habit of making pals with the powerful and offering to "help off the record." Or using your network to try to undermine the president. Or if this New York Magazine cover story from last year didn't report the same thing about your attempts to coax powerful conservatives into the presidential race. But hey, we all make jokes sometimes that might sound a little more serious that we intended.
One thing's for damn sure, though. Ailes can never say he doesn't use Fox News reporters to carry out his own political agenda. Unless he's just kidding around, right?