Did Roger Ailes Really Think David Petraeus Would Hire Him?


The Fox News chief reportedly said that if the former general ran for president he'd quit his job to run the campaign.

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Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, dispatched an envoy to Afghanistan in hopes of persuading then-General David Petraeus to run for president, according to an article in The Washington Post. That isn't surprising. One imagines plenty of influential Republicans were trying to recruit him. Even post-affair he'd arguably be a better president than any GOP candidate who ran in the 2012 cycle.

But the really interesting parts in the article were all buried:

  • The messenger, Fox national security analyst Kathleen McFarland, told Petraeus that if he ran, Ailes might quit his job at Fox News to run the campaign. In other words, Ailes apparently lacks the self-awareness to understand that a widely respected retired general would, if running for president, do everything in his power to distance himself from deeply polarizing purveyors of partisan propaganda. Outside the conservative movement, Ailes is regarded as a cynical, ethically compromised man so unprincipled in what he broadcast that he elevated Glenn Beck's chalkboard rants. The quality of presidential wannabe who'd potentially hire him is Herman Cain.
  • The envoy said "Ailes had directed her to ask Petraeus whether 'there [is] anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?'" It's difficult to imagine a question that should embarrass and discredit the head of a purported news organization more than that one. To ask, "Is our coverage fair and accurate?" is one thing. To explicitly invite a high-ranking general, Tell us what to do differently, betrays the mindset of a sycophantic propagandist. 
  • Petraeus is quoted as saying, "Off the record, the New York Times was never going to give Bush or Iraq a break. I don't care what happened." You'll recall that the Times is the news organization that published Judith Miller's reporting on weapons of mass destruction, foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman's advocacy for the war, and a column by Bill Keller, shortly before he became the paper's executive editor, titled "The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club." It is the newspaper that employs John F. Burns, whose work was widely regarded as fair by conservative Iraq War proponents. Its editorial board's skepticism of the war was also punctuated by items like this one. In short, the idea that the Times would never report favorably on Iraq no matter what happened is fantasy. 

One wonders who Ailes is determined to have run in 2016.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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