Ailes and Nixon
July 1st, 2011
08:29 PM ET
3 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 Gawker.com, 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. Peikovian

    I guess Ted Turner's fling with Jane Fonda establishes CNN as "fair and balanced"?

    July 2, 2011 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  2. cnntwiststruth

    This article compares to what? The likes of state run news like CNN?

    July 2, 2011 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  3. Tony FL

    you kidding, right? First?

    July 2, 2011 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  4. Christopher

    Poor CNN. Completely outclassed by Fox news and starting silly conspiracy theories. Yes they are your competitor and yes, you are getting your race baiting butts whooped. Weak articles like this aren't going to turn the tide for you.

    July 2, 2011 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  5. Christopher

    "comment awaiting moderation"
    LOL, why am I not surprised you bigoted far left wing cowards.
    Poor CNN. Completely outclassed by Fox news and starting silly conspiracy theories. Yes they are your competitor and yes, you are getting your race baiting butts whooped. Weak articles like this aren't going to turn the tide for you.

    July 2, 2011 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
  6. Ari

    It was only a matter of time. What happens now?

    Stop watching these bastards.

    If you can honestly understand this information and continue to watch...Fuck you.

    July 2, 2011 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  7. Rarian Rakista

    CNN please stay on top of this story, don't go ADD, this is big.

    July 2, 2011 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  8. Doc Ock

    True Journalism died a long time ago :(

    July 2, 2011 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
  9. Chuck

    Fox News was created by a lying, cheating, coward. . . .what a surprise.

    July 2, 2011 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
  10. Pedro

    Just as they said, the mainstream would like to first be able to censor the right before publishing it. :) Point taken

    July 2, 2011 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  11. Pajama Man

    Too bad CNN isn't fair and balanced... bunch of left leaning liberals hell bent on slanting a story and taking a side. Sigh...

    July 2, 2011 03:15 am at 3:15 am |
  12. NomadicWolf

    "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." Which basically says, unless we have the opportunity to alter your truth(statement), you may not feature it here. A good #1 reason not to trust Cnn.

    July 2, 2011 03:20 am at 3:20 am |
  13. Darth Vadik, CA

    Why is this surprising? Anything underhand is flaunted and applauded by Republicans, that is why most of the Republicans revere Nixon.

    July 2, 2011 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
  14. Tommy Mack

    Hmmm, if Nixon thought it was a good idea, we KNOW we could believe him. It's too perfect that FOX came from the man who epitomes the definition of "liar".

    July 2, 2011 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  15. Liberty 4 teh win

    I have to say, I enjoy reading articles from all news sources just to get a feel from all sides, but this might be the dumbest article I have ever read. And I read news from CNN daily. The last paragraph of this stupid article is what bugs me the most. They contacted Fox for a response and Fox will only give them a response if they will run the statement in its entirety, so CNN won't do that. So in other words, CNN says "its against policy to do that" only because they want to take what Fox says out of context to make them look even worse. My hats off to you Mr. Todd and Mr McConnell... You just made your network look like a complete flop. I find it funny that they mock Fox's fair and balanced saying, yet CNN can't even assure Fox a complete statement of theirs would be shown.

    July 2, 2011 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  16. joe

    CNN.. you're a flop..and can't even spell right.. in your so-called.. stories..

    July 2, 2011 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  17. Anon

    And Fox News is why the media is in the shape it is in now...They shouldn't even be able to call themselves a news network.

    July 2, 2011 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  18. jim Tuffit

    Hardly an interesting article. Fox is garnering more and more and more viewership because viewers are keenly aware that they will cover both sides of a story. I have read many articles on Fox that blast republicans. The purpose of this article is to discredit Fox by saying it is a news outlet for the right. I disagree with that premise. Fox covers news from all angles. Bleed cnn, bleed.

    July 2, 2011 03:59 am at 3:59 am |
  19. texasmike

    Not surprising in the least. Fox News is a Republican only propaganda network. "Fair and Balanced"/ More like selectively subjective partisanship and unhinged political diatribe providers.

    July 2, 2011 04:00 am at 4:00 am |
  20. Johnaton Banyes

    Look at me I am a loser and I talk about Richard Nixon. Or as we called him growing up, Dick Shooter.

    July 2, 2011 04:02 am at 4:02 am |
  21. Anonymous

    Fox News is right wing propaganda that hugely benefits corporate and financial interests under the guise of conservative reporting. It is essentially a corporate lobby that operates in the media. Our once great but steady falling nation (due to 75% GOP dominated government over the last 40 years) is now rife with ignorance. Fox News depends on these people for it's audience– greedily stirring up misinformation, hatred and division to sustain their ratings and profits. It is a shameful tragedy that it has succeeded so well.

    July 2, 2011 04:07 am at 4:07 am |
  22. Welcome to Reality

    Fox News is hated by all of the rest because it completely DOMINATES in the ratings every single day. Since this is a fact, and not up for argument, CNN tries to divert their flaming to Fox in other ways. For instance, despite consistently being deemed the most fair news reporting among the networks, CNN still pushes the idea that Fox is conservative. They do this while maintaining that Obama is a center politician, even though his voting record before being elected to the Presidency was officially listed as the most extreme liberal in the senate. No other democrat was so far to the left as Obama was.

    July 2, 2011 04:18 am at 4:18 am |
  23. Dino

    I remember the good old days when CNN was recognized as a liberal network. Then came Clinton and the name changed to Clinton News Network. Fair and Balance is hard to find today. Actually, thanks to the internet, it was always hard to find but luckily we have the internet that spells out the lies and disgrace. I remember the chemical warfare attack job done by CNN in the 1990s that was proven false. I remember the impressive Clinton glorified reports while trashing the Republican. Talking about Fox and their conservative bias by CNN is just jealousy. Americans are tuning into Fox News, look at the numbers, because they can't trust the other networks, cable or not.

    July 2, 2011 04:25 am at 4:25 am |
  24. funnyname

    From one of the memos:
    "People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you."

    July 2, 2011 04:36 am at 4:36 am |
  25. Jessy

    I don't listen to Fox News anyway. If on TV I turn it off or ask to change the channel to be polite. Just 20 seconds of Foxnews gets me angry. At no one particular, just angry at the world or soemthing. I don't want to live my life like that being angrier and angrier. I would rather enjoy life because you only live once and when your gone your gone.

    July 2, 2011 04:40 am at 4:40 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6