Diana West
No doubt in the spirit of the season, somebody bestowed an audio sweetmeat upon Bob Woodward of The Washington Post -- 13-plus minutes of an off-the-record conversation that took place in spring 2011 between Gen. David Petraeus, then ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) commander in Afghanistan, and Fox News analyst KT McFarland, who was visiting Petraeus' Kabul HQ.

At the end of an interview, McFarland announces she has a personal message for Petraeus from Fox News President Roger Ailes, part of which is: If Petraeus isn't appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he should resign in six months and run for president.

Obviously, Petraeus didn't take the advice. And that's the Post headline -- "Fox news chief's failed attempt to enlist Petraeus as presidential candidate." But there is more to the message than that.

The segment starts thus:

McFarland: I have something to say to you, by the way, directly from Roger Ailes, OK?

Petraeus: I'm not running (laughs) ...

McFarland: OK! ... Roger Ailes, I told him I was coming.

Petraeus: I love Roger.

McFarland: I know, and he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, first of all: Is there anything Fox is doing right or wrong that you want to tell us to do differently?

This question is devastating to the Fox News brand. And it shines a light on the kid gloves and soft lenses with which Fox has consistently handled disastrous counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan for which Petraeus, as lead author of the military's Counterinsurgency Field Manual, literally provided the strategic blueprint. It is this sycophantic relationship that has been unmasked, no matter how hard Ailes and McFarland now brush everything off as a gag that McFarland took too seriously.

“It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have,” Ailes told the Post. “I thought the Republican (primary) field needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate.” Ailes then called McFarland “way out of line.”

But what about Ailes? Wasn't he “way out of line” by putting her up to this -- or are we to believe McFarland was making the whole thing up?

As if to amplify this notion, McFarland recently penned a half-defensive, half-confessional response at FoxNews.com that carries the headline, “My Petraeus interview firestorm silly, off-base.” McFarland strenuously rejects Woodward's story and ensuing media reaction as so much baseless hyperbole, writing: “A conversation that began in jest and that led to a passing comment at the end of my interview with General David Petraeus has turned into a firestorm of speculation and an attempt to denigrate Fox.”

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).