WASHINGTON - Fox News chief Roger Ailes sent an envoy to Afghanistan early last year to encourage General David Petraeus to run against Barack Obama for the US presidency, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
A lengthy article written by the investigative journalist Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, cited a digital recording of the meeting between Petraeus and Kathleen McFarland, a Fox News pundit and former Pentagon spokeswoman.
The message from Ailes, a longtime Republican media guru who advised former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was delivered during a 90-minute interview conducted by McFarland in Petraeus's office in Kabul, the report said.
Petraeus, then the top US general in Afghanistan, was urged by Ailes to refuse Obama's offer to head up the CIA and suggested that unless the president asked him to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then 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," Ailes advised Petraeus, via McFarland, according to Woodward's article.
The cable news channel boss also spoke of the possibility that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch would "bankroll" a Petraeus campaign.
However, Petraeus rebuffed the proposal and he accepted Obama's offer, being sworn in as director of the CIA in September 2011, a post he resigned from last month after the disclosure of an extra-marital affair with his biographer.
Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, admitted that he did ask McFarland to tell Petraeus he should consider running against Obama, but he played down the gesture's significance.
"It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have," 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.
McFarland was working for Fox News as a freelance National Security analyst and, according to the recording, 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 US intelligence agencies "are going to be a growth industry," Petraeus reportedly said.
He also told McFarland that although he was rejecting 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.