Though the Jon Stewart vs. Fox News battle seems to have petered off the past few days, there’s no denying the contentious relationship Fox News has for most of the media and vice versa. It’s been that way since its inception in 1996 as the “fair and balanced” answer to what founder Roger Ailes saw as a skewed media landscape in 1996. It’s even been that way since the idea was just a kernel of an idea, being tossed around the Richard Nixon White House in the 1970s.
A memo entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News,” buried in the the Nixon library details a plan between Ailes and the White House to bring pro-administration stories to television networks around the country. It reads: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.”
It’s just one 15-page section in a 318-page cache John Cook, at Gawker, pulled out from the Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush libraries.
The documents are a fascinating look in the construction of image building. Even back then, Ailes had his signature impassioned style, writing that they were responsible for the life or death of America.
The documents show Ailes to be an engaged, brilliant, and often catty adviser with an obsessive, almost evangelical focus on the power of television to manipulate people for political purposes.
The records have been in the public sphere for some time, and much of this information was suggested in the January Esquire profile of Ailes:
“It's a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected,” Mr. Nixon is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Ailes. “Television is not a gimmick, and if you think it is, you'll lose again,” Mr. Ailes is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Nixon. And there the modern conservative movement — not the ideological entity but the telegenic one — was born.
Still, the documents show Ailes carefully crafting of two political figureheads. The documents also show that Ailes is not the only one whose thought of using technology for image control. The Huffington Post, an ideological Web site at the other end of the spectreum from Fox News, had a similar startup idea. In a document allegedly outlining the plans for the site, Democratic political consultants Peter Daou and James Boyce (who, mind you, are suing the Huffington Post claiming their idea was stolen), wrote:
We must use the potential of the Internet to the fullest extent possible to continue the momentum started during the campaign and re-organize the Democratic Party from the outside in, not the inside out.
Times change. Motives, not so much.