Fox News' national security analyst KT McFarland responded on Wednesday to the revelation that, during a conversation with David Petraeus, she told the former general that Fox News chief Roger Ailes wanted him to run for president.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward broke the story on Tuesday, releasing a 13-minute recording of the conversation between McFarland and Petraeus. During the discussion, McFarland said she had a message for Petraeus from Ailes: if he was not offered the position as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he should run for president in 2012. Ailes told Woodward that he was making a "joke" when he suggested Petraeus run for president.
Woodward's story garnered a great deal of attention. The Post's Erik Wemple described why the report made such a splash in media and political circles: the blatant conflict of interest that rests at the heart of the story and at the top of Fox News.
The top executive at a cable news network passed along unsolicited advice to a general — boosterish, adoring advice. Mind you, the person to whom he passed along this boosterish, adoring advice was at the center one of the country’s most stubborn and critical news stories. No need to consult Poynter.org to determine whether this was a colossal conflict of interest. Don’t get too breathless about this spasm of Ailes political activism, however: It’s not the first time.
On Wednesday, McFarland responded to criticism aimed at her, Ailes and Fox News. She described herself as "bewildered" by the press' reaction but admitted that she "now" knows Ailes "was joking" about suggesting Petraeus run for office, "but at the time ... wasn't sure."
She also wrote that Woodward was "way off base to characterize [the conversation] as a serious attempt to get him to run, or to give him political advice." She claimed to have passed the exchange off in a chummy fashion:
I realize conspiracy theorists have used this off-the-record interview to claim it was some plot to put Petraeus in the Oval Office. But it was little more than one defense analyst (me) trading some political gossip and laughs with one of the country’s most important military leaders (Petraeus).