Opinion

Why Fox News was created

Richard Nixon and his aides wanted a TV network of their own

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

If Fox News had a DNA test, it would trace its origins to the Nixon administration. In 1970, political consultant Roger Ailes and other Nixon aides came up with a plan to create a new TV network that would circumvent existing media and provide "pro-administration" coverage to millions. "People are lazy," the aides explained in a memo. "With television you just sit — watch — listen. The thinking is done for you." Nixon embraced the idea, saying he and his supporters needed "our own news" from a network that would lead "a brutal, vicious attack on the opposition." Alas, his fantasy network did not come into being at that time, and the 37th president was soon engulfed in the Watergate scandal. At first, Republicans dismissed the scandal as a Washington Post "witch hunt." But then the White House tapes proved beyond doubt that Nixon had used the levers of government to pursue vendettas against his opponents and cover up his extensive skulduggery. Disgusted GOP leaders, including Sen. Howard Baker of the Senate Watergate committee, chose principles over party. Nixon was forced to resign.

We live in a far different country today, thanks to the vision originally outlined in that 1970 memo, which Ailes realized decades later with Rupert Murdoch's money. Fox News provides an alternative reality to the "fake news," providing daily talking points to Republican elected officials and policing them the way a sheepdog does its flock. Those who dare stand up to President Trump know they will be denounced as traitors on Fox, even if they're war veterans with a Purple Heart on their chests. In Foxworld, no evidence can prove that Trump tried to extort Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election — and if he did, so what? If the president beats the impeachment rap in the Republican Senate, as he's likely to do, he should send a thank-you card to Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon, wherever they may now be.

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