In a 2011 New York cover story on Roger Ailes, Gabriel Sherman reported that in the run up to the election the Fox News chief “fell hard” for Chris Christie, and “hoped that David Petraeus would run for president.” Encouraging Christie to run was as simple as picking up the phone, but to woo the general Ailes had a Fox News analyst stop by Petraeus’s office in Kabul to deliver some unsolicited career advice. Now you can listen in on that conversation thanks to Bob Woodward, who obtained a recording of the one-on-one talk between Petraeus and Kathleen T. McFarland and published it on the Washington Post’s website. After asking Petraeus whether there’s “anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?” McFarland relays Ailes’s recommendations on taking a job in the Obama administration. If Obama wants Petraeus to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he should take it. “If you’re offered anything else, don’t take it, resign in six months and run for president. Okay?” says McFarland. “And I know you’re not running for president. 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.” She says Ailes may resign as head of Fox to run Petraeus’s campaign, and Murdoch will be bankrolling the operation.
Petraeus answers, “Well, Rupert’s after me, as well,” but insists he has no interest in running for office, though he loves Ailes and thinks “He’s a brilliant guy.” The general adds that he’d also be interested in the CIA directorship, despite McFarland’s elaborate theory that Obama would only offer him the job to prevent him from running for president in 2012 or even 2016. At the end of their conversation, Petraeus jokes about taking Ailes up on his offer if he ever decides to run. “It’s never going to happen. You know it’s never going to happen. It really isn’t,” he adds. “My wife would divorce me … And I love my wife.”
Ailes confirmed to Woodward that he sent McFarland to draft Petraeus, but said she was “way out of line.” “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 pointed out that McFarland is merely a Fox contributor who earns less than $75,000 a year, adding, “It’s someone’s fantasy to make me a kingmaker. It’s not my job.” As it turns out, it’s good that despite their best efforts Ailes and Murdoch don’t have the power to anoint America’s top political leaders. An affair between a newly elected President Petraeus and Senator Broadwell would be tough for Fox News to spin.