Fact Sheet

Did Fox News originate in the Nixon White House?

Gawker unearths a decades-old memo that suggests Roger Ailes was an early proponent of Fox-style news — even when he was a young Nixon aide  

Since its launch in 1996, Fox News has rocketed to dominance in the cable wars. But Roger Ailes' "fair and balanced" alternative to what he calls the liberal bias of other news outlets was far from an overnight success. In fact, according to documents obtained by Gawker, his idea for a conservative news source was conceived in 1970, when Ailes worked as a media consultant for then-President Richard Nixon. Here, a brief guide to how it all (might have) started:

Where was the idea for Fox News born?According to Gawker, the concept was first outlined in a 1970 memo titled "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News." Gawker's John Cook found the document "buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library." In it, the author proposes sidestepping the "prejudices of network news" to get "pro-administration," pro-Republican video directly to local TV stations.

Did Ailes himself write the memo?That's not clear, although he wrote notes in the margins, saying, "This is an excellent idea," according to Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone. Ailes also asked, "Who would purchase equipment and run operation? White House? RNC?" It's unclear where the idea went from there in the Nixon administration, but the memo describes something similar to Television News Incorporated — the "Ailes-helmed 'fair and balanced' mid-1970s precursor to Fox News," Dickinson says.

There was a similar TV outlet that long ago?Yes, says Dickinson. TVN supplied local stations with video "news" that "promoted the GOP line, while presenting itself as an impartial purveyor of journalism," he says. Beer magnate Joseph Coors covered the distribution and production costs.

Why go to such lengths?The Nixon-era memo says that, even as early as 1970, people were watching TV news more than they were reading newspapers. So the best way to get pro-Nixon news to the heartland was to send it there yourself. "People are lazy," the memo's author said. "With television you just sit — watch — listen. The thinking is done for you."

Sources: Gawker (2), Rolling Stone, Washington Post

Recommended

Omicron: A wave of infection ripples through the economy
COVID testing.
The Week Staff

Omicron: A wave of infection ripples through the economy

The touchy-feely CEO retreat
Entrepreneurs.
Feature

The touchy-feely CEO retreat

The 2022 tax season, explained
Taxes.
Briefing

The 2022 tax season, explained

The Daily Show mocks Fox News' 'No Sedition Charges' Jan. 6 talking point
The Daily Show on the death of a meme
RIP talking point

The Daily Show mocks Fox News' 'No Sedition Charges' Jan. 6 talking point

Most Popular

Will 2022 bring another Miracle on Ice?
The Miracle on Ice.
Samuel Goldman

Will 2022 bring another Miracle on Ice?

California deputy DA opposed to vaccine mandates dies of COVID-19
Kelly Ernby.
covid-19

California deputy DA opposed to vaccine mandates dies of COVID-19

Omicron may be headed for a sharp drop because so many people are infected
Dr. Janet Woodcock
Omicron Blues

Omicron may be headed for a sharp drop because so many people are infected