Diana West

In jest? Passing comment? No. The conversation (most of it is transcribed at my website, dianawest.net) may be light in tone, but there is no mistaking the deliberate nature of the message McFarland conveys to Petraeus from Roger Ailes. There is, first, a serious query about “whether there is something Fox can do better,” a question that Petraeus himself relays to an unnamed aide. Second, there is the straightforward, if unsolicited, advice as to how Petraeus might jump-start a presidential run. A supportive Fox News president implies a supportive Fox News team.

In conveying Ailes' political advice, it even sounds as if McFarland might be reading from notes. “He says that if you're offered chairman, take it. If you're offered anything else, don't take it. Resign in six months and run for president -- OK? And I know you're not running for president, but at some point when you go to New York next, you may want to just chat with Roger and, and Rupert Murdoch for that matter.”

Petraeus replied, “Well, Rupert's after me as well." The general then goes on to reveal that the only two jobs he would at that point consider were chairman of the Joint Chiefs and CIA director – “ but that has to be off the record,” he added. McFarland replied: “His (Ailes') deal with me was I was only supposed to talk to you, and my deal with you will be I sit down with him, and he is a little paranoid, so believe me, he doesn't have anybody in that room.” With the meatier aspects of the conversation out of the way, the bantering intensifies, with Petraeus saying: “Tell him if I ever ran, but I won't ... I'd take him up on his offer. He (Ailes) would quit Fox and bankroll it. Or maybe I'm confusing that with Rupert.” They all laugh. Murdoch would bankroll it, McFarland says, Ailes would run it, “and the rest of us are going to be your in-house.” More laughter.

Call it “kidding on the square.” Amid the conviviality, however, a Fox pundit has successfully conveyed more than advice from the Fox News president to the commander in Afghanistan. More significantly, we get a sense of an institutional brand of near-fealty that had to have “shaded” coverage, to use Petraeus' word for describing the general effect of the boss on any outlet's coverage. Now we know more about why Fox News has never covered the dark side of COIN, for example, or even hit the story that Petraeus appears to have lied to Congress over Benghazi twice, which is a felony.

Come to think of it, neither have the rest of the media.

All of which is a much bigger problem.

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).