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. Alex

    Nixon is bad to the bone alive or dead

    July 2, 2011 04:57 am at 4:57 am |
  2. Francis

    From it very core and start up, Fox was set up to deliver what is the GOP's mouth piece based on the ideas of what we know was a corrupt, paranoid, and criminal administration. Way to keep up your CORE foundation Fox (for faux) news.

    July 2, 2011 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  3. Stephen Daedalus

    Yeah, this is interesting, but it doesn't take a history lesson to realize that Fox is about as balanced as a one-legged donkey. This mind you, is the A/V model that CNN has been playing catch-up with for years now... bravo CNN, you've been chasing a whore, and now you are one.

    July 2, 2011 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  4. frank from Indiana

    Nixon the gift that just keeps on giving. Just like Reagan.

    July 2, 2011 05:59 am at 5:59 am |
  5. Marina

    It is very misleading to the public to keep airing their slogan " Fair And Balanced". It is very obvious that most of their shows are focused on building up GOP and attacking democrats. They should just remove that slogan because it conditions the mind of people to be hypocritical of their party affiliation to GOP instead of just owning up to it?

    July 2, 2011 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  6. mike

    And is CNN any different? Not really. The big two "news" agencies are both profit driven entities who cater to a particular group of customers. Watch the advertisments between segments to see the who the agency is catering to. Its a great fromula that has provided much capital to the owners over the years. There is no news, just reporting spin designed for the target audience. FOX and CNN co-exist to cover the entire consumer base. Remember, advertising dollars and rating to secure more dollars is the end goal for each. Im not saying its right or wrong, but it is the way things work. Unfortunatly, the average American is so consumed with their personal vision as being right, they dont see that either side of the media is simply using them for finacial gain.

    July 2, 2011 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  7. T40G

    Very interesting.

    July 2, 2011 06:37 am at 6:37 am |

    propaganda is good for the sole

    July 2, 2011 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  9. John

    pretty much tells it all when CNN won't print a verbatim statement. Shame.

    July 2, 2011 06:54 am at 6:54 am |
  10. sick of republican phonies

    Boy, that man resembles a hog that has been boiled to remove its hair before butchering. He manages to make Richard Nixon look handsome.

    July 2, 2011 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  11. wallybob

    roger ailes has been creeping around washington for a long time. tricky dicky's regime was the incubator for a lot of the corruption and deception we see now.

    July 2, 2011 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  12. David Carlyle

    "...never going to get a fair shake through the mainstream media...". Could anyone disagree with that then, or could anyone disagree with it now?

    July 2, 2011 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  13. Hackpiper

    I could tolerate Fox News if they even lived up to their supposed charter to "counter-balance" the supposedly-liberal leaning news. But they don't get nearly up to that level. It's a simple, straight narrative that strains to the extreme right and panders to base instincts.

    July 2, 2011 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  14. Gabor47

    Big deal. Everybody knows that the main stream media is leftist. So, somebody thought of creating a non-leftist media outlet. Observe THIS news article. Full with question marks, assumptions, interpretations. Even if true, proof is nowhere.
    I had the same idea, but I am a nobody and I was never in the position to create a non-leftist media outlet. Somebody did. So what? Oh yes, Fox News became the most popular among cable news channels. Maybe a higher percentage of the viewing audience began to recognize reality?

    July 2, 2011 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  15. Jesus

    Roger Ailes was simply the Joseph Goebbels of the Nixon administration. The spreading of conservative GOP propaganda was his mission. He succeeded, but only after he figured out that the truly weak minded and gullible core of believers for FOX News are those Church going evangelical types. Ailes found his audience.

    July 2, 2011 07:21 am at 7:21 am |
  16. TRH

    Hmmm...this might explain much. Doesn't surprise me. Haldeman? LOL!!!!! Yeah!

    July 2, 2011 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  17. Jesus

    The spreading of conservative GOP propaganda was Ailes' mission. He succeeded, but only after he figured out that the truly weak minded and gullible core of believers the could constitute the base of viewers of FOX News are those Church going evangelical types. Ailes found his audience.

    July 2, 2011 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  18. sdrawkcab

    That's the whole point of Fox News. CNN won't run a story without putting "their" spin on it. The majority of the population believes the mainstream media is very left slanted, or Fox wouldn't be kicking everyone else's butts. If news were reported as news, without the editorial slant, we'd ALL be better off. Fox slants their news right, as a direct result of the lefts control of the media. A return to NEWS would be welcome by most. Leave the OPINIONS out of it, & don't try to pass them off as NEWS.

    July 2, 2011 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  19. sdrawkcab

    If comments are not pre-screened before posting, why is my comment "awaiting moderation?

    July 2, 2011 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  20. Mary

    I find it funny that this is even a story! Really? CNN is as left as it gets and Fox News is as far right as it gets. Is nothing else happening in the world that a story needs to be wrote about how FOX news may have been thought up in the 70's
    CNN and FOX are BOTH just opinion news shows. They don't deliver the news un-bias.

    July 2, 2011 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  21. SqueakyVoice

    This doesn't surprise me in the least. I was just old enough to feel the keen sting of betrayal of an elected official during Watergate. I'd have to say much of the cynicism of my generation towards politicians is rooted in Nixon's time. Of course the people around him would have felt "if we could just control the spin of this" then the damage would be diminished. FOX News is destroying the discourse in this country; you can't have a civil discussion with anyone anymore. The comments that will follow as those FOX has indoctinated defend them will include 5th grade name calling. Just watch.

    July 2, 2011 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  22. tomtom

    Who would have thought 😉

    July 2, 2011 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  23. Robert

    I'm thankful for Fox news. They clearly are NOT fair and balanced, but then again neither is race-baiting CNN. Read them all, and be fair and balanced in your own judgement.

    July 2, 2011 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  24. Dan

    Nice piece of "Yellow" journalism from a sea of liberal tripe-leftys can't stand to hear an opposing view and will do anything to silence it

    July 2, 2011 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  25. wendy5

    cnn is fluff news and fox gives us the real news; i dont trust cnn for anything other than who was murdered and watching the trial; or whos getting married or who is sleeping with whom; anything else is a joke i go else where to get the real goods

    July 2, 2011 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
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