Roger Ailes Was Totally Joking About Petraeus Running for President

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The Fox News analyst caught on tape encouraging then-general David Petraeus to run for president at the behest of her boss Roger Ailes just didn't realize he was kidding, she wrote in a new FoxNews.com column after a day of media lashing over the blatant disregard for journalistic standards. "I know now that Roger was joking, but at the time, I wasn't sure," said national security analyst K.T. McFarland, echoing the explanation her very powerful superior gave to Bob Woodward, who published McFarland's comments (complete with audio) at the Washington Post. "It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have," said Ailes. McFarland now knows the company line.

"It was not a serious conversation plotting General Petraeus' political future; it was the kind of idle speculation that happens in every campaign season. That's why they call it the silly season. I knew he was serious about not wanting to run, and he knew I wasn't serious in pressing it," she claims after the fact."I realize conspiracy theorists have used this off-the-record interview to claim it was some plot to put Petraeus in the Oval Office. But it was little more than one defense analyst (me) trading some political gossip and laughs with one of the country's most important military leaders (Petraeus)."

But McFarland sounded quite sincere, not silly, on the tape. "If you're offered anything else, don’t take it, resign in six months and run for president. Okay?" she said last spring, referring to speculation that the pre-scandal general would be named to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or head of the CIA. "And I know you're not running for president," she added. "But at some point when you go to New York next, you may want to just chat with Roger. And Rupert Murdoch, for that matter." (New York's own Gabriel Sherman reported first that Ailes "hoped that David Petraeus would run for president.")

Petraeus's demurring — "My wife would divorce me ... And I love my wife" — is also notable in retrospect, for different reasons, but watching McFarland wiggle away from words that got her boss hit with criticism is almost as awkward. In addition to the old "just joking!" defense, she tries, in typical Fox fashion, to spin the questions right back at the "conspiracy theorists": "So who taped the interview? Why did they keep it hidden away for the past 18 months? Why was it released at this time to a Washington Post reporter?" she writes. In other words: Who else can I blame for this mess besides myself?