Ailes and Nixon
July 1st, 2011
08:29 PM ET
7 years ago

Ailes and Nixon

Washington (CNN) – The claim is ubiquitous on Fox News Channel: we're "fair and balanced". To many observers, that's a way of saying Fox is a conservative foil to what some believe is the liberal-leaning mainstream news media. Was there a blueprint for Fox News Channel in the early days of the Nixon administration?

A fascinating document from the early-1970s, obtained by CNN from the Nixon Presidential Library, is entitled "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News." The memo openly says it's an idea to avoid "the censorship, the priorities and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators." The stated goal: "To provide pro-Administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States."

In extraordinary detail, the memo lays out how to accomplish this. Production hands would interview Republican lawmakers and other officials every morning in Washington, they'd put together a produced TV piece in a specially-outfitted truck as it moved toward Washington National Airport by mid-day, and fly the package to selected TV news markets for air on local stations, hopefully in time for their 6 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. newscasts.

It's not clear who wrote the memo. The Nixon Library tells CNN it's in the files of Richard Nixon's later-convicted Chief of Staff, H.R. 'Bob' Haldeman. But there is handwriting all over the memo with detailed suggestions on how to make the plan work better. The handwriting says "Bob, if you decide to go ahead we would, as a production company, like to bid on packaging the entire project." He later signs off, "Best regards, Roger.”

The website, which first discovered this memo, says the handwriting is that of Roger Ailes. Ailes was then an outside media consultant for President Nixon, and went on to establish Fox News Channel in 1996.

Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's “Reliable Sources”, says it's not fair to compare Ailes in the early-1970s with his role as a news executive now.

But Kurtz says "Ailes recognized then, and recognized when he helped create Fox News Channel, that there was a mighty media machine that he believes leans to the left, and Fox was created in part as an antidote to that- not to put out Republican talking-points, but to give what Fox would say is the other side of the story."

Kerwin Swint, author of a 2008 book on Ailes entitled "Dark Genius", says the memo is a telling reflection of the toxic relationship between the Nixon White House and the broadcast networks' news divisions. "It says very clearly that they did not trust the mainstream media", Swint says, "that they viewed the media as an instrument of the political left. They believed that they were never going to get a fair shake through the mainstream media."

The plan detailed in that White House memo never appears to have gotten off the ground. Ailes went on to work at a right-wing news service called “Television News Incorporated” (TVN) in the mid-1970s, which also failed, before becoming a well-known consultant to the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

CNN contacted Fox News Channel for a response. A Fox spokeswoman said they would provide a statement only if CNN promised to run the statement, sight unseen and in its entirety. It is against CNN policy to make such promises.

Filed under: Fox News • Richard Nixon
soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. Ray E. Georgia

    The Left must be running out of ideas if they have to invoke Richard Nixon again. But I doubt that Fox News was invented in the Nixo Adminstration but rather people coming to their senses A 14.5 trillion dollar National debt is nothing to sneeze about.

    July 1, 2011 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  2. James B

    This doesn't surprise me at all...but it gives away the FOX approach to the news in clear black and white. Roger Ailes and the republican leadership had the idea of feeding "their version" of the news to "lazy people. " Sadly, it has worked exceedingly well. Even the logo "fair and balanced" was coined and is still the moniker of choice. I wonder what FOX news viewers will think if they dig deep enough to read about this memo from the disgraced Nixon Administration. This was good reporting.

    July 1, 2011 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  3. John

    No poop! Roger Ailes is finally going to get the light of truth on him. Nixon carries on in Ailes's body, plotting and conniving in the disguise of news.

    July 1, 2011 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  4. nobody special

    Please wait a moment while I put on my "shocked face."

    July 1, 2011 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  5. D-Nice

    Ailes is a modern day Herman Goebbles. Ailes personally gives the Fox news hacks their talking points for the day and they cover those points on almost every program they run. Studies have shown that people actually become less informed while watching Fox. So, I guess it's better to stare at the wall than watch Fox new if you want to get informed on political happenings.

    July 1, 2011 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  6. Discernment

    To paraphrase Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca:

    "I'm just shocked, , , shocked. . . " (to learn that Roger Ailes has been conspiring to bamboozle Americans with hypocritical religious-right propaganda under the guise of Republicanism-TV).

    July 1, 2011 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  7. once upon a horse

    there is NO WAY a FoxNews type channel could have been successful in the Nixon years because there was too much Republican scandals thyen. And Fox would not have had very much luck spinning what Nixon did into a positive. FoxNews is successful even more right now because there is a Democrat in the White House thus they can attack Obama 24/7, something the NEVER did to President Bush and this is what their viewers want. They don't want to hear ANYTHING positive about Obama nor the Democrats even if it was true or factual. They have even stopped using the term "fair and balanced" as much because they KNOW they are not. "We report YOU decide" Maybe if they survived the Nixon years and made it to the Carter years it would have been different.

    July 1, 2011 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  8. Charlie in Maine

    "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News." The memo openly says it's an idea to avoid "the censorship, the priorities and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators."

    "Mission Accomplished."
    I can't say we are any better off for it but Mission Accomplished

    Oh well the all the left has is actual events and facts going for it.

    The right has to settle for Fox News.

    I still think we are better off on the left.

    July 1, 2011 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  9. Mark g

    Liberal democrat myself and living in DC at that time... Way too big of a strech and inference of FOX. Nixon was completely paranoid of ALL press; papers, evening news. I mean this was a guy who wanted to wiretap Walter Cronkite. Ailes has always been a Republican strategist. Working with Nixon was a losing proposition. Todd and McConnell are stretching way too far on this.

    July 1, 2011 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  10. Marie MD

    are ailes and barbour realted? They are both disgusting human beings both inside and out.

    July 1, 2011 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  11. Sgt Schultz

    Wow I'm shocked CNN actually print this. All the righties are having a temper tantrum the liberal media elite exposed Fox "News" – Facts Don't Matter – as the fraud that it is. Now it all makes sense. Fox indeed is the official propaganda network of the REAL media corporatist establishment. There is no such thing as "liberal" media.

    July 1, 2011 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  12. ibamaliar

    If I was you CNN I would not bve critical of another network critizing their political views when we all know that you are Liberal through and through.

    July 1, 2011 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  13. Jane

    I don't think anyone is surprised by this....

    July 1, 2011 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  14. Bob in Pa

    Who are you two jokers that wrote this "bombshell" Get a life gentlemen. As if Nixon or anyone else around at that time was even dreaming up cable news channels.

    July 1, 2011 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  15. Amunaka

    Ahhh...yes Nixon dirty tricksters ... Donald Segretti...Lee Atwater.. Karl Rove...Lucianne Goldberg ...Ailes..Fox news ..Hillary Clinton was right .." a vast right wing conspiracy "...and it wasn't just a theory...delicious to look back on all these players and many more ..cause it's all just a few clicks away and all falls into place ...And I just thought it was ironic I got fox news on my cable line up the same week the Lewinsky scandal broke ...did i mention delicious yet...

    July 1, 2011 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  16. Eats, Shoots and Leaves

    Yes, Nixon apparently did "sow" (not "sew") the seeds for Fox News.

    July 1, 2011 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  17. Velma

    You don't "sew seeds," You "sow seeds'! Edit,edit, edit! I might expect that from Fox, but come on CNN, smarten up your writing and editing.

    July 1, 2011 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  18. G Bro

    Dear Headline Writer, it's "sow seeds," not "sew seeds." Idiot.

    July 1, 2011 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  19. john p

    Nixon destroyed America when he granted China most favored nation status. That meant that China was no longer subject to very high tariffs on good it exported to America. Communism was teetering and on the brink of destruction until Nixon did this. Nixon is responsible for the mass exodus of jobs from America to China, for China's new powerhouse status, and for the continued strength of communism in China. Nixon = worst President ever – even worse than Dubbya.

    July 1, 2011 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  20. Jeremy

    No matter what side of the aisle you are on, this article is a huge stretch. Almost as bad as some of glenn beck's theories. Didn't know that CNN was getting into these.

    Can we get a story on how 30 years ago the creators of CNN set some ideas in motion to make sure that present-day CNN is a joke with their ratings?

    July 1, 2011 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  21. L.A. Voter

    Did Nixon "sew" seeds???? Seriously, is someone getting paid to write this, because it's VERY insulting that so-called news is being served up by sub-literates who don't know a simple English cliche, much less the difference between the words sew and sow.

    July 1, 2011 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  22. Renee Pruett

    a proper journalist would know the difference between Sow and Sew. seriously.

    July 1, 2011 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  23. Angie

    I didn't know it was possible to "sew seeds". On the other hand, people do SOW seeds. This was the lead-in for the Nixon/FOX News story.

    July 1, 2011 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  24. Stephen Weiberg

    A shitstorm is brewing in this article.

    July 1, 2011 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  25. Rennes

    I'm not surprised. It is how dictatorships work. And dictators think nothing of breaking the law, even if they are sworn in to protect it.

    July 1, 2011 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
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