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. Cande

    Shouldn't that be "sow" seeds instead of "sew" seeds. I don't believe it was a needle and thread that planted the idea.

    July 1, 2011 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  2. George

    Nixon's horrible paranoia was the very foundation of the modern Republican Party. Every year, it gets worse and worse.

    July 1, 2011 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  3. Ali

    So, the front page headline for this is "Did Nixon sew the seeds for Fox News."

    July 1, 2011 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  4. joe lunchbox

    Check your headline. You sow seeds. You sew socks.

    July 1, 2011 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  5. Former Republican, now an Independent

    This pretty much verifies what most Americans already know. Fox News is the best phony and biased news money can buy. If you have enough money in this country, you can make a large section of the country believe even the most far reaching distortions of issues and news.

    July 1, 2011 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  6. Duque Duke

    Are you serious? CNN going after FOXN? I know MSNBC does that to get more viewers, but it seems like CNN is forced to do the same. The crisis is for every body on these times.

    July 1, 2011 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Thank God someone had the brains and foresight to understand the bleeding heart left wing mainstream media and start a forum to counter their stupidity.

    July 1, 2011 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  8. Squigman

    Nothing you could print here about FOX, would surprise me. Nothing except the part about fair and balanced. That would surprise the hell out of me.

    July 1, 2011 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  9. cnntwiststruth

    It is rather entertaining to see the hysterical responses from the Anti-Freedomite slime left, even if I do not have time to respond to each and every nonsensical blabbering from the lame stream media or the fools that believe them, I wish I could educate them...I figure there are those who were 'educated' by traitor pig democrats who would, if given information, understand. Then there are the true believers in the EVIL SLIME, non-truth, hysterical reactionary, excrement head, foolishness that the democrat party has become. So Libs., keep those cards and letters coming. Your screams are my sonatas. : )

    July 1, 2011 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  10. olepi

    Nice to see it actually documented: the purpose and goal of FOX is propaganda, not "balanced" news. Roger and the Saudi's control the message. FOX is a foreign-owned propaganda network, with it's own agenda. We already knew this, but it is nice to actually see it confirmed, in writing.

    July 1, 2011 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  11. Pillow Biter

    Faux news is great entertainment. Just don't expect actual news.

    July 1, 2011 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  12. dnchrist

    I have watched programs on Fox that show both sides of an issue by using both liberal and conservative guest speakers. I have NEVER seen this happen on MSNBC – only ridicule of Consdervatives and their opinions. I very seldom see fair and balanced on CNN, mostly I see CNN trying to shape opinions in their preferred direction. Most "news" articles on CNN MSNBC, FOX are really editorial opinions if you look closely.

    July 1, 2011 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  13. Diane Winters

    Is this the kind of journalism CNN is resorting to? You seem to be increasingly critical of FOX and are ever looking for some way to disparage them. Your coverage is unquestionably biased. Nearly every day I look down your list of articles, and you are ever quick to run a story critical of a GOP candidate, or share some gossip on least when you aren't 'investigating' FOX. PLEASE grow up and try, even if it pains you, to give Americans actual facts, rather than your political spin. We are sick of it.

    July 1, 2011 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  14. DP

    Fox News! I've heard of that. Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, all just a bunch of statist mouthpieces to me. Some cheer for statist Team A, some for statist Team B, and the state just keeps growing.

    July 1, 2011 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  15. Greg Gilbert

    I imagine every republican representative has talked about having a more right leaning news & media. It's not just believed to be left leaning news either, it's been shown even by liberal studies that journalists vote democrat in a vastly higher percentage than the public, and bias of the journalist will always come out in some form.

    July 1, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  16. dnchrist

    CNN uses headlines to push an agenda. THIS IS NOT NEWS, IT IS OPINION SHAPING!

    July 1, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  17. Daddio927

    This is rich... A couple of CNN goon reporters write a piece slamming FOX news over some memo from over 40 years ago. Keep in mind that at the time there WAS no FOX News. But somehow these ID10Ts try to hang it around FOX's neck anyway. (Why let the simple fact that the Network didn't even EXIST at the time of the memo get in the way of a good "news" story...right?). Then, (wait for it) in the very last sentence of the piece, they openly admit that they would only print FOX's response if they could CENSOR it first!!! (Are you kidding me??!). Now THAT'S what I call fair and balanced "journalism". (sarcasm most definitely intended.) If this type of story doesn't let people see CNN "reporters" for what they really are then I'm afraid we're past the point of no return.

    July 1, 2011 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  18. Flyboy7588

    "what some believe is the liberal-leaning mainstream news media"???? Give us a break CNN. A recent poll showed well over 70% of the sample viewed the mainstream news media as being blatantly liberaly leaning. Some? My @ss. BTW, Fox is kicking CNN's but and has been for years now. If the suits are CNN had at least half a brain they would steal shamelessly from Fox, that wouldn't make their handful of leftist viewers happy. Wise up, CNN.

    July 1, 2011 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  19. Bill in Florida

    "Fair and Balanced" my ass.

    July 1, 2011 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  20. Bill Kilpatrick

    It's hilarious to realize that Roger Ailes, who founded Fox, was peddling the same idea to the Nixon administration. Technology has changed (Fox doesn't need to fly video tapes to local stations) but the core idea is essentially the same: Bypass the "liberal" media by establishing an independent source providing the "conservative" take on the news. It's not so much a bombshell (We all know what Fox is) as a knee slapper. Fox lets neocons drink their Kool-Aid without any taint of "liberal bias," what the rest of us call facts.

    July 1, 2011 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  21. Bronson

    The conservative movement is deliberate, patient and thought out. Wolfowitz and Cheney waited a decade for a chance to topple Sadam again. Nixon gave birth to Bill O'riely raising him to be a right wing mouth piece. Evil people win while all the smart ones try to figure out how to purify water

    July 1, 2011 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  22. 8andSkate

    And "SEEDS" for CNN were laid with "Not Necessarily The News".

    July 1, 2011 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  23. Hal Archer

    Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell
    Fox News follows a blueprint from the Nixon Administration????. Wake up and smell the coffee. Every administration has a government news service. Obama has one which is incidentially woefully incept. China has one, Britain has one, even Hong Kong where I live has one.

    That's just one source for a responsible news organization. But for CNN it is the only source for its KOA policy. (Kiss Obama's Ass).

    Stop passing on handouts and work for a living.



    July 1, 2011 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  24. GaryOwen27

    But "I'm not a crook".

    July 1, 2011 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  25. NoTax

    It is against CNN policy to make such promises.
    and not a balance

    July 1, 2011 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
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