David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA, undoubtedly has a few regrets in life, including the fateful decision to pursue an extramarital affair that ultimately cost him his job and stained his reputation. On the other hand, he's probably pretty happy that he decided not to run for president; the consequences of an adultery scandal during a major political campaign would have been exponentially worse. Still, if Fox News chief Roger Ailes had had his way, says Bob Woodward at The Washington Post, Petraeus would have joined the 2012 race

Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.

The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’ office in Kabul.

Woodward reports that Ailes, who has worked as an aide for several Republican presidents, was considering stepping down from Fox to run a Petraeus campaign. Under the plan, Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media magnate who owns Fox News, would "bankroll" the campaign. And Fox News itself, in McFarland's words, would act as Petraeus' "in-house" operation. Petraeus politely refused the offer, but he did have some suggestions when McFarland asked him, in total violation of journalistic standards, whether "there [is] anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?" Petraeus suggested that Fox should cover the war in Afghanistan less critically.

It's no secret that Fox News is an outlet for conservative voices. But Ailes' promise of support to a particular candidate bolsters the widely held belief that the channel is not an independent news organization and suggests just how entrenched Fox is in conservative politics. "The extent of the Fox involvement in attempting to woo Petraeus into the political world is pretty startling even to those of us who already see Fox as a blatantly political implement," says Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution. One can only imagine the outrage erupting from the media — including Fox — if the head of another mainstream news organization had done the same.

For his part, Ailes tells Woodward that it was all "a joke, a wiseass way I have." He also says McFarland "was way out of line," indulging in some "fantasy to make me a kingmaker." (His objection belies the impression that McFarland, as Erik Wemple at The Washington Post puts it, "was under specific and binding orders from Ailes. [On the tape] she repeatedly invokes Ailes’ name, his advice, and his interest in the career of Petraeus.") However, Ailes does admit that he thought the Republican primary field "needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate."