Shorter Roger Ailes: I’m Not a Kingmaker, I’m a Chairman-Maker

Presumably as part of David Petraeus’ effort to rehabilitate his image, Bob Woodward obtained a tape of a discussion in which Fox News’ “Analyst” Kathleen McFarland passes on Roger Ailes’ April 2011 advice to Petraeus: if Obama doesn’t name him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Ailes instructed, he should quit and run for President.

When you listen to the tape, it seems clear Petraeus is getting the promises Ailes and Rupert Murdoch previously made to him on a tape he presumably knew was running. Note the way he leads the discussion in this passage.

Petraeus: He is. Tell him if I ever ran [laughs] but I won’t . . .

Q: Okay, I know. I know.

Petraeus: But if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer.

Q: Okay. All right.

Petraeus: He said he would quit Fox.

Q: I know. Look, he’s not the only one.

Petraeus: And bankroll it.

Q: Bankroll it? [Laughs]

Petraeus: Or maybe I’m confusing that with Rupert. No. [Laughter]

Q: I know Roger, he’s done okay, but . . . no, I think the one who’s bankrolling it is the big boss.

Petraeus: That might be it.

Q: Okay. The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house.

Mind you, I’m not sure what Petraeus thought he was accomplishing by getting this on tape. It is not news, after all, that Republican hacks like Ailes wanted Petraeus to run. Nor is it news that Fox is a partian organization that would drop everything to back the right candidate. And a tape record that Murdoch promised to bankroll the unsullied Petraeus for President does not legally bind Murdoch to do the same for a now-shamed former General.

So while the tape and transcript are fun on a lot of levels, all they really does is confirm what we’ve long known about Ailes, Murdoch, and the publicity hound Petraeus.

Moreover, I’m far more troubled by the way McFarland discussed what she called gossip she has picked up from some former chiefs, purportedly repeating the White House’s fears, about Petraeus.

Q: Okay. But they think if you’re chairman, they can’t overrule you. They can’t go against whatever your advice is going to be, militarily. Plus, they have a Colin Powell problem. Where Colin Powell, very successful chairman, is everybody’s sort of rallying point to run for an office where there’s nobody that they think is — that the group can . . .

Petraeus: But of course he didn’t run.

Q: But he could have.

Petraeus: And he wouldn’t have. No.

Q: He could have. Politically, he could have. So they look at you and they think, how can we keep him quiet? We don’t want him out on the loose to potentially run in ’12, and we sure don’t want him in ’16. We’ll put him at the CIA, where he can speak publicly twice a year before an open session of Congress. No backgrounders to the press, no Sunday talk shows, no speeches, no nothing. Now, I’m throwing that out as gossip.

Mind you, McFarland attributes these beliefs to the White House via presumably retired officers, not Ailes. But it comes just after she has delivered Ailes’ instructions: take JCS or run for President.

Q: That’s not the question at this point. He says that if you’re offered chairman, take it. If you’re offered anything else, don’t take it, resign in six months and run for president. Okay?

So in addition to a purported media outlet (albeit one that solicited advice on its coverage) recruiting Petraeus to run for President, said media outlet first said that if Petraeus could get into a position where the White House “can’t overrule” him, he should stay in government.

Just minutes after relaying advice that he should stay if he were JCS Chair, McFarland stated that the value of having him at Chair is that the Commander-in-Chief could not overrule him.

For Fox, it seems, having their guy in charge is more important than maintaining civilian rule over the military.

When Woodward contacted Ailes about the conversation, Ailes downplayed McFarland’s actions, her position at Fox, and his own role.

In a telephone interview Monday, the wily and sharp-tongued Ailes said he did indeed ask McFarland to make the pitch to Petraeus. “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 added, “It sounds like she thought she was on a secret mission in the Reagan administration. . . . She was way out of line. . . . It’s someone’s fantasy to make me a kingmaker. It’s not my job.” He said that McFarland was not an employee of Fox but a contributor paid less than $75,000 a year.

He wasn’t a kingmaker, Ailes said. Though it seems he was happy to play Chairman-Maker.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. der says:

    – “Petraeus, Murdoch and McFarland did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment.”

    Why would they, Woodward knows the answers – Petraeus gave him a copy of the tape on Murdoch’s advice to get out in front with the narrative, after telling McFarland she was the “fall guy.”

    – “In contrast, the CIA and the intelligence agencies, “I think, are going to be a growth industry,” Petraeus said.”

    Call me shocked to read this about the “greatest strategic military mind of our generation.”

  2. Ben Franklin says:

    Sort of on topic; Did anyone see John Kerry yukking it up with McCain as the latter was pimping him as opposed to Rice, for the coveted cat-bird seat?

    What are Publicans up to with this crapola?

  3. scribe says:

    @Ben Franklin: two reasons: to indulge their racism and to get Scott Brown back into the Senate through another special election to fill Kerry’s seat. There’s little doubt Brown would win one, and then the Teabaggers would have him back where he could call Elizabeth Warren a squaw and such like was done during the recent campaign.

    Moreover, he is a pretty natural politician and I could see him being paired with Christie as the favorites for the Rethug nom in 2016.

  4. John B. says:

    Two Rethugs from the northeast on a ticket? No way. First off, Brown isn’t a very good candidate to begin with and Christie has made himself persona non grata to the Rethug faithful for praising and hugging the kenyansocialistmuslimusurperdemocrat.

  5. Rayne says:

    Hey, D-pat’s got the Gingrich presidential candidate credentials down — the cheating spouse credentials.

    Speaking of intelligence, gotta’ wonder if Murdoch’s had D-Pat’s phone bugged?

  6. Timbo says:

    “couldn’t overrule you” sounds mighty suspicious in and of itself, I’d say. In fact, if I were interested in Constitutional government, I’d be investigating the heck out of supposed reporter talking like that to a General in a theatre of operations during hostilities. At the very least, this sort of conversation, particularly if it was a regular thing for said “journalist” (political courier?)/”news organization” (sedition conspirators?) to go about talking to commanding generals like this, that certainly would be a threat to military good order at the very least. A threat that might just bear some increased scrutiny…

    So, maybe Petraeus is trying to spin this as him just making sure his backside was covered? Or did this recording come from some other source than the general? Interesting.

  7. rugger9 says:

    I called out something like this a while back, expecting that Betrayus would ride in as a white knight for POTUS at the GOP convention. Then there was a book…. No doubt the GOP oppo review would have flagged the Paula problem and kiboshed it. The issue of how classified info turned up on a private computer is something that should be dug into but won’t be to spare powerful people.

    Honestly, Betrayus is no military genius outside of the practice of the political side of the flag job, and that is an opinion many in the Army share, quietly. Even his actual record in Afghanistan and Iraq looks more like a guy who left his relief holding the bag o’ sh&%%t Betrayus created. Guns and money in particular.

  8. klynn says:

    The timing of the release on this is interesting – the same time as announcing dropping Rove and and Morris from FOX.

    Hmmmm. Ailes seems to be getting his spin and distance on a few fronts.

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