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. Jennifer

    Yes, with all the liberal newsites out there, you certainly wouldn't want a conservative site to complete the set, would you? It would be so very wrong for both sides of the aisle to get coverage on TV. That medium belongs solely to the liberal MSNBC and CNN.

    July 2, 2011 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  2. Howard

    Doesn't surprise me. Nixon was the darkness looking for the dark!!!!!!

    July 2, 2011 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  3. Howard

    Thos of us who remember Nixon remember him as someone who was someone who was uncomfortable in his own skin! He made coffee nervous!!!

    July 2, 2011 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  4. Joe

    Thank goodness for Fox News. They are the only news outlet that comes close to broadcasting "NEWS"; not opinionated news. By the way, any other president, and the honeymoon with the press would have been over 2 years ago.

    July 2, 2011 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  5. thes33k3r

    I would watch Fox News if it weren't for all of the blatant lying, misrepresentation, anti-science, theocratic, anti-constitutional (e.g. separation of state and church), anti-logic, anti-reason, Christian-baiting, ultra-conservative, intentionally deceptive, logically fallacious, and rhetorically fallacious aspects.

    July 2, 2011 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  6. thes33k3r


    July 2, 2011 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  7. Paul ny

    Wow stop the presses!!!! Fox news is corrupt? Get out of town!!!!!

    July 2, 2011 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  8. Pastafaria

    I was a staunch republican during the 1970's, and I have three kids, Richard, Julie, and Tricia – not a coincidence. However, in the age of FOX News, I am a staunch liberal.

    July 2, 2011 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  9. Mark

    Exactly, how is this different from The Third Reich establishing a Ministry of Propaganda with Joseph Goebbels?

    July 2, 2011 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  10. Lucullus

    The drip, drip, drip of Richard Nixon just never ends does it? The right wing stench that passes for journalism is going to be with us for a long time if not forever. You have to love Howard Kurtz though.

    "it's not fair to compare Ailes in the early-1970s with his role as a news executive now"

    If there is a better example of a hand wringing liberal I don't know where it is. Ailes is a conservative lying sack of sh*t and a traitor to what this country stood for. If he and when his cronies get there way, children will be working in coal mines and we'll have a free and informative press that would make Joseph Goebbles proud.

    Lucullus, NYC

    July 2, 2011 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  11. Indiana Voter

    " 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."


    So basically CNN wants a comment from CNN, but only if they are allowed to cut to pieces first, and hopefully use it against Fox News. Please CNN, why must you show your leftist agenda so blatantly? This sounds like a CNN "hit" piece on Fox News. Must be trying to divert attention away from the economy, jobs, and the debt ceiling argument.

    July 2, 2011 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  12. Got Money?

    You don't say? Absolutely shoking indeed!

    July 2, 2011 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  13. Brian

    Read a transcript of old Tricky Dick's notorious tapes. He uses every pejorative four letter word in the book to describe Jews. I am not a crook – oh, pardon me.

    July 2, 2011 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  14. zip

    America has been in decline for 15 years. In other news, happy 15th anniversary, Fox Fake News.

    July 2, 2011 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  15. Tom

    It's too funny and predictable that the red-eyed, frothing at the mouth, America-hating, leftist political activists at CNN failed to compare the ratings of Fox News to the "ratings" of CNN.

    July 2, 2011 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  16. dwech

    I'm not surprised by this at all. Nixon, Ailes, Murdock – manipulators, all. To them, the news is a game to be controlled, the public a monetary resource to be duped for their own ends.

    July 2, 2011 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  17. Wallace68

    Nixon was a great President. Wish they would of caught LBJ.

    July 2, 2011 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  18. Todd

    Faux "News" channel has about 3 million viewers who watch it most of the day.

    July 2, 2011 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  19. nkp

    yah, dont care...we now have to put up with fox news no matter what.

    July 2, 2011 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  20. Name

    SO? We all know Focks Opinion Channel is useless as a news source, their being tied to (or started by or in concert with) a group of corrupt members of our government is not news, CNN. Also, even if the idea started during the Nixon administration, even if the idea belonged to Tricky Dick himself, it wasn't founded until... was it 1996? Wasn't that over two decades AFTER the fact? Does this matter? Why not point out the much more germane fact that being biased in the OPPOSITE direction they contend other media outlets are, does not make them UNBIASED, it just makes them biased in the opposite direction. That's not being fair, nor is it being balanced. It would be like if a car had an alignment problem that made it always pull to the left. (That's "the media" other than Fox.) So rather than make a car that drives STRAIGHT when the wheel is not turned, they make one that PULLS TO THE RIGHT, and claim since everyone else's cars pull LEFT, theirs IS driving straight by pulling RIGHT. They are not fair, nor balanced, and the people they employ are liars or idiots, or often both. But yeah, CNN... this is not news.

    July 2, 2011 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  21. Mark

    Gosh CNN, but you do lean left... as do most members of the media, by their own admission, in surveys. Perhaps it is those delusions of superiority so that attracts the talent in the first place.

    July 2, 2011 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  22. ThinkAgain

    Is it any surprise that Fox was conceived of as, and always will be, nothing more than a propaganda machine for the right? This memo just proves what is obvious every day.

    July 2, 2011 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  23. Tex71

    So now we have hard facts providing incontrovertible proof of what we knew all along: FOX is the US version of "Pravda".

    July 2, 2011 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  24. Anonymous

    "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."

    That might be one of the best paragraphs I've ever read. CNN and Fox are like little kids fighting.

    July 2, 2011 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
  25. CK Stratford

    Why is CNN reporting on a rival newsstation? Why not report on people helping one another, donations to charity, cute baby animals, or other nice things? I for one am sick of the crap that is being shown on TV (news & other programs), except for few exceptions.

    One more question though... Why is it against the policy of CNN to not report in the entirety a statement by a group as big as Fox News? Wouldn't they print a statement by the NBA, NFL, Catholic church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or another large group? Sounds like they are trying to hide something too.

    July 2, 2011 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
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