We now know that top players with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel plotted with General David Petraeus about the prospect of using the cable network as a platform for launching a “Petraeus for President” campaign. As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Bob Woodward writes in the The Washington Post:
So in spring 2011, [former Republican campaign strategist and now Fox News president Roger] Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.
The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations—or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.
McFarland also said that Ailes—who had a decades-long career as a Republican political consultant, advising Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—might resign as head of Fox to run a Petraeus presidential campaign. At one point, McFarland and Petraeus spoke about the possibility that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp., which owns Fox News, would “bankroll” the campaign.
“Rupert’s after me as well,” Petraeus told McFarland.
Murdoch is not the first media mogul to stand accused of plotting a presidential campaign for a favored contender. But the revelations regarding his network come at a particularly inconvenient moment, as Murdoch is seeking federal rule changes that would allow him to become a dramatically more definitional figure in American politics.
The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a radical restructuring of media ownership rules that would benefit Murdoch. From its founding, the FCC has been charged with preventing media conglomerates from dominating local and national media in a manner that would allow an individual owner to define the discourse. Now, because Murdoch wants to buy major daily newspapers in communities where his News Corp combine already owns local television stations, he proposes to tear up the old rules.
Murdoch wants FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and his fellow commissioners to ease limits on what is referred to as “media cross-ownership” in the nation’s largest cities. If that happens, the nation’s media reform network, Free Press, warns that the move will “pave the way for Murdoch—and like-minded media moguls—to own the daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in the same market.”