Roger Ailes, the head of the U.S. cable channel Fox News, sent an envoy to Afghanistan early last year to encourage General David Petraeus to run against Barack Obama for the U.S. presidency, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
A lengthy article written by the investigative journalist Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, cited a digital recording of the meeting between Mr. Petraeus and Kathleen McFarland, a Fox News pundit and former Pentagon spokeswoman.
The message from Mr. Ailes, a long-time Republican media guru who advised former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was delivered during a 90-minute interview conducted by Ms. McFarland in Mr. Petraeus’s office in Kabul, the report said.
Mr. Petraeus, then the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, was urged by Mr. Ailes to refuse Mr. Obama’s offer to head the CIA and suggested that unless the President asked him to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he should quit.
“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,” Mr. Ailes advised Mr. Petraeus, via Ms. McFarland, according to Mr. Woodward’s article.
The cable news channel boss also spoke of the possibility that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch would “bankroll” a Petraeus campaign.
However, the general rebuffed the proposal and accepted Mr. Obama’s offer, being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in September, 2011, a post he resigned from last month after the disclosure of an extramarital affair with his biographer.
Mr. Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, admitted that he did ask Ms. McFarland to tell Mr. Petraeus he should consider running against Mr. Obama, but played down the gesture’s significance.
“It was more of a joke, a wise-ass way I have,” Mr. Ailes told the Post. “I thought the Republican field [in the primary, ultimately won by Mitt Romney] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate,” he said.
Ms. McFarland was working for Fox News as a freelance national security analyst, and, according to the recording, Mr. Petraeus told her that beyond the army, he was attracted to the CIA because “we’re going to be retreating militarily.”
In contrast, the CIA and the U.S. intelligence agencies “are going to be a growth industry,” Mr. Petraeus is reported to have said.
He also told Ms. McFarland that although he was rejecting Mr. Ailes’s advice, “I love Roger … he’s a brilliant guy,” and that he “would love to see” the Fox News chief the next time he visits New York.