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  

President Richard Nixon is all smiles in a 1969 photo: Gawker reports that the original idea for Fox News was "buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library," in a 1970 memo.
(Image credit: Wally McNamee/CORBIS)

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.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

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

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.