Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has another scoop, on former CIA director David Petraeus and possibly from David Petraeus. It reveals that the head of Fox News, on orders from yellow press lord Rupert Murdoch, attempted to recruit Petraeus as a Republican candidate for president in spring, 2011, while he was commanding troops in Afghanistan.
The evidence is in the form of a recording of a conversation in Afghanistan between Petraeus and K. T. McFarland, a long-time Republican party flack (going back to Nixon!), more recently kept on retainer by Fox Cable News, the media arm of the US Republican Party.
It is hard to imagine that more than three people had the recording– Petraeus himself, McFarland herself, or possibly Roger Ailes, the long-time Republican Party official who heads Fox Cable News and who sent McFarland out. (Ailes is now attempting to backpedal and make it look as though she had too active an imagination, but the tape is pretty clear that Ailes was asked by Murdoch to get Petraeus aboard, on the promise that Ailes could run the campaign and that Murdoch would be its superpatron). Or, well, I suppose it is possible that some third party had Petreaus’s office in Afghanistan bugged.
Murdoch is worth over $8 billion, and is the 38th wealthiest person in the US. He was a force behind George W. Bush’s and Tony Blair’s Iraq War, and his media have plumped for far right wing causes, climate change denial, and the far right wing Israeli Likud Party, and have promoted fearmongering and racism against minorities. Murdoch has a practical streak, so that he also backed Tony Blair and said he thought well of Barack Obama, but he is only pragmatic when he has to be, presented with centrist winners. He much prefers the George W. Bushes and the Newt Gingriches.
Despite mountains of evidence that Murdoch media are profoundly corrupt and have engaged in widespread hacking of people’s telephone messaging machines, he may yet be allowed by the FCC to buy up the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, extending his undue influence in the US (via the Wall Street Journal and Fox Cable News).
In fact, Murdoch at the time of his approach to Petreaus was under investigation by the British parliament for possibly having ordered the telephone hacking on the part of his reporters and editors. (It is unlikely that a criminal practice was widespread in several newspapers within a single media complex unless it was directed from the top).
There was some suggestion that Murdoch’s American media holdings might be investigated to see if they also engaged in criminal hacking. But I’m unaware that anything came of all that. (I would be surprised if an investigation had not been warranted).
These considerations raise the possibility that Murdoch feared for his future so much (and had better evidence been uncovered, he could well have gone to jail) that he was seeking a way out. And that way out would have been to become the superpatron of a rising American political star (as he had done once before by suborning Tony Blair). From Murdoch’s point of view, the approach to Petraeus could do no harm and perhaps much good. If Petraeus agreed to run for president with Murdoch’s funding, he could run interference for Murdoch with the Department of Justice if it got too interested in Fox News hacking enterprises. If Petraeus declined the offer and became head of the CIA, Murdoch had just made friends with the incoming head of the CIA.
That scenario is similar to the saga of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s massive expenditure on first Newt Gingrich and then on Mitt Romney. Adelson, also a key backer of far right wing PM Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel, is under investigation for possibly having lubricated Chinese authorities with regard to his Macau casino. Adelson wanted other things, including a war on Iran, but he was in part trying to stay out of jail or avoid big fines.
In short, the Petraeus tape demonstrates that politics in the United States is now done in ways not much different from Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy. I.e. it is a playground for corrupt billionaires, thanks to far right wing dominance of the US Supreme Court.
McFarland presents the case for Petraeus as a Republican candidate who could keep the Obama Democrats and their New New Deal (e.g. health care, higher taxes on the rich) from becoming irreversible shapers of the future of America. Petraeus shows no interest in that sort of domestic issue.
Petraeus comes out of the tape looking good. He blows Murdoch off and heads off to become head of the CIA. There is no hint of any interest in any corrupt deal.
The tape reveals that Ailes and Fox actually asked the commander in Afghanistan how they should pitch the news about Afghanistan! This offer seems another way of buttering up Petraeus, who wanted his ‘counter-insurgency’ policy in Afghanistan to be presented as a success. Petraeus brought in consultants such as Fred Kagan from the right wing, Neoconservative American Enterprise Institute to advise him on Afghanistan. None of them knew anything about Afghanistan. Some suspect Petraeus was being nice to them and pretending to listen to them because they are frequently interviewed by the corrupt among the US press corps instead of actual area experts, and could be depended on to shape the coverage of Afghanistan positively. Murdoch was going one better, not only offering Petraeus the presidency, but also promising to shape media coverage of Petraeus’s efforts in Afghanistan at the level of the mass media.
Petraeus complains about the New York Times being dead set against positive coverage of the Iraq War. Since the Iraq War was an unmitigated disaster, what is amazing is how much of the US press fell for Petraeus’s propaganda efforts about it. Petraeus’s comrade in arms, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, admitted that the Pentagon had coopted the US press on Iraq. He also made some sober and alarming admissions about the ignorance of the US military in Afghanistan and the contradictory nature of its stated goals there.
All in all, the tape shows Petraeus in a relatively good light, which is why some suspect it was leaked by him. He says he has no interest in making money He wants to serve. He foresees that the US military’s role in the world is likely to retrench dramatically, and that the future lies with intelligence activities.
Petraeus represents the US involvement in Libya as much more an intelligence endeavor than a military intervention. And, he thinks that Libya looks much more like the future than do Iraq and Afghanistan. For me, this short comment was the most interesting thing on the tape. It seems clear that if offered the directorship of the CIA, Petraeus certainly would take it. He was ambitious, but not ambitious for public life. Some observers wonder whether he did not already have personal skeletons in the closet by spring of 2011, which a run for the presidency would have risked making public because of the laser-like press scrutiny focused on public candidates. He denies it.
There are even dark conspiracy theories that he, by leaking the tape, is trying to convince his Washington persecutors that he does not have and never did have political ambitions, so that they will finally leave him alone. That thesis seems too cartoonish to me. But obviously there is something on this tape that the leaker wanted publicly known for some reason.