Ailes and Nixon
July 1st, 2011
08:29 PM ET
9 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. notogop

    Tricky Dick and his administration are still lying and "crooking" from the grave. Paranoia is a very dangerous affliction and if allowed to go untreated, can lead to more serious diseases like Faux Noise. Hopefully, a cure will be found and much of the damage inflicted upon the public will be removed, much like the downfall of communism, McCarthyism and Naziism.

    July 2, 2011 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  2. Bill

    All of the 24 hour news stations are biased except Fox which pretends it is neutral. If you want 'fair and balanced' news then watch all the news stations and form your own opinion.

    July 2, 2011 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  3. GI Joe

    Confirmation that FAUX is just a propaganda tool used to fool the ignorant masses. The liberal elites (educated people) have known this for years, but in a lifetime you'll never be able to convince the rightwing nutjobs that they are not 'FAIR AND BALANCED" - they are definitely unfair and unbalanced (or in some cases, imbalanced).

    July 2, 2011 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  4. Ted Ward

    And of course Public Television and NPR became the left leaning-ish media outlets that were already existing and evolving at this same time, and were partially publicly funded as well, in addition to the commercial media outlets which were then and still are extolling and continuing the delusional mirage of "Camelot". People forget that Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election to JFK by a razor thin margin due in no small part to the Kennedy' family's mob connections in Chicago, and cash payments to local sheriffs and ward leaders across West Virginia and other areas. To insiders in Washington this was well known, but the media never reported the shady (and perhaps ultimately deadly) side of Kennedy activities. Is it any wonder, then, that Nixon was a bit bitter and paranoid?

    July 2, 2011 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  5. cardhuu

    Just another way for CNN and the liberal news to spin the web they weave so well. Left leaning propaganda again!

    July 2, 2011 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  6. fred

    The other side of the story. There is only one true story. And yes, the "mainstream" media has a noticable lean for interpreting that story. But does Fox offer us that story? No. By their own admission, and as though they are somehow proud of the fact, they offer only an interpretation with an opposing lean. One side offering propoganda balanced by another side offering propoganda. And both sides proud of their ignorance of the actual truth. Balanced? Since both are equally worthless except for pure entertainment purposes I guess you could call that balanced.

    July 2, 2011 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  7. TomD

    Why would CNN quote someone who called a competitor a "Dark Genius?" Is this how you see conservatives?

    July 2, 2011 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  8. The Greedy Old Propagandists put party over country

    So we can blame Nixon for Fakes News as well as the neocon movement and government corruption? Sweet. That said, Ailes is a vile little toad who has done more harm to average Americans than any terrorist group ever has. Fakes News = Linguistic Terrorism.

    July 2, 2011 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  9. Byrd

    The seeds for FOX were sown in Hell. It may not be the cure, but it's sure the ultimate destination for Ailes.

    July 2, 2011 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  10. maxdenn

    Dirty trickster Dick really was an awful man. No worse than GWB though.

    July 2, 2011 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  11. MarineVet

    May 23, 2011

    Fox News
    Roger Ailes ‘thinks Palin is an idiot’
    There’s a lot to chew on within Gabriel Sherman’s monster New York magazine article on Fox News, but most interesting are the doubts that Fox News chief Roger Ailes has about the Republican 2012 presidential field he has done so much to shape.
    Sherman reports that Ailes was particularly disappointed with Palin’s ‘blood libel’ response to the Tucson shooting, since it reflected the fact that she had ignored his advice.
    “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” another Republican close to Ailes told me. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.”
    Kinda embarrassing when the GOP hacks at Faux Nooz think you're a loser.

    July 2, 2011 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  12. maxdenn

    Given the worst president ever title, Nixon or GWB, Bush wins it hands down.

    July 2, 2011 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  13. HR

    Fox does air some balanced views of politics where the rest of the mainstream media is so "in bed" with Obama they can't tell the whole truth! Fox does not go far enough -it is time to tell the whole truth. The mainstream boys now realize what a mistake it was to support Obama's election that they are now afraid of the backlash if they come clean. The 2012 election will be very interesting, will they report a fair balanced news or will they play king maker again??? People are fed up with our media "making" news instead of "reporting" news – America will not survive if the liberal press promotes socialism as they did by supporting the idiot Obama.........................

    July 2, 2011 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  14. Smegma Palin

    The great thing about Fox News is that they can spew out false information and the lemmings swallow it hook, line and sinker every time. 'Get fired up!' is their motto, and they know how to energize bigots and religious fanatics. Unfortunately, they are also part of the downfall of the current GOP.

    July 2, 2011 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
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