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Context of 'October 2008: Fox Chairman Loads Network with Conservative Presidential Contenders for 2012'

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Roger Ailes (left) and Richard Nixon in a 1968 photo.Roger Ailes (left) and Richard Nixon in a 1968 photo. [Source: White House Photo Office / Rolling Stone]Roger Ailes, the media consultant for the Richard Nixon presidential campaign, decides that Nixon should, during a televised town hall, take a staged question from a “good, mean, Wallaceite cab driver.” Ailes is referring to the overtly racist third-party candidacy of Governor George Wallace (D-AL). Ailes suggests “[s]ome guy to sit there and say, ‘Awright, Mac, what about these n_ggers?’” According to Nixonland author Rick Pearlstein, the idea is to have Nixon “abhor the uncivility of the words, while endorsing a ‘moderate’ version of the opinion.” (Pearlstein 5/2008, pp. 331; Media Matters 7/22/2011) The suggestion is not used. Ailes will go on to found Fox News (see October 7, 1996).

Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera.Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera. [Source: Media Research Center]Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” (Associated Press 7/6/1989; Noyes 1/25/2008; Dickinson 5/25/2011) After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. (Salon 1/26/2011) Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. (Noyes 1/25/2008)

The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad.The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad. [Source: University of Virginia]A political advertisement on behalf of the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign appears, running on televisions around the country between September 21 and October 4, 1988. Called “Weekend Pass,” it depicts convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who was granted 10 separate furloughs from prison, and used the time from his last furlough to kidnap and rape a young woman. The advertisement and subsequent media barrage falsely accuses Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, of creating the “furlough program” that led to Horton’s release, and paints Dukakis as “soft on crime.” It will come to be known as one of the most overly racist political advertisements in the history of modern US presidential politics.
Ad Content - The ad begins by comparing the positions of the two candidates on crime. It notes that Bush supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, whereas Dukakis does not. The ad’s voiceover narrator then states, “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” with the accompanying text “Opposes Death Penalty, Allowed Murderers to Have Weekend Passes” superimposed on a photograph of Dukakis. The narrator then says, “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times,” accompanied by a mug shot of Horton. The voiceover continues: “Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” At this point, the ad shows another picture of Horton being arrested while the accompanying text reads, “Kidnapping, Stabbing, Raping.” The ad’s narration concludes: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” The ad is credited to the “National Security Political Action Committee.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Museum of the Moving Image 2008; Cross 11/18/2009)
'Soft on Crime' - The ad is a reflection of the measures the Bush campaign is willing to undertake to defeat the apparently strong Dukakis candidacy. Dukakis is a popular Democratic governor and widely credited with what pundits call the “Massachusetts Miracle,” reversing the downward economic spiral in his state without resorting to hefty tax increases. At the time of the ad, Dukakis enjoys a 17-point lead over Bush in the polls. Bush campaign strategists, led by campaign manager Lee Atwater, have learned from focus groups that conservative Democratic voters, which some call “Reagan Democrats,” are not solid in their support of Dukakis, and are swayed by reports that he vetoed legislation requiring teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. They also react negatively when they learn that during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, Horton had been furloughed and subsequently raped a white woman. Atwater and the Bush campaign decide that Dukakis can successfully be attacked as a “liberal” who is “not patriotic” and is “soft on crime.” Atwater, who has a strong record of appealing to racism in key voting groups (see 1981), tells Republican Party officials, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Although Dukakis had vetoed a bill mandating the death penalty for first-degree murder in Massachusetts, he did not institute the furlough program; that was signed into law by Republican governor Francis Sargent in 1972. The ads and the accompanying media blitz successfully avoid telling voters that Sargent, not Dukakis, instituted the furlough program. (Simon 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org) 1999)
Running the Horton Ad - The ad is sponsored by an ostensibly “independent” political organization, the conservative National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Thomas Moorer. NSPAC’s daughter organization “Americans for Bush” actually put together the ad, created by marketer Larry McCarthy in close conjunction with Atwater and other Bush campaign aides; Atwater determined months before that the Horton ad should not come directly from the Bush campaign, but from an “independent” group supporting Bush, thus giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to distance itself from the ad, and even criticize it, should voters react negatively towards its message (see June-September 1988). The first version of the ad does not use the menacing mug shot of Horton, which McCarthy later says depicts “every suburban mother’s greatest fear.” McCarthy and Atwater feared that the networks would refuse to run the ad if it appeared controversial. However, the network censors do not object, so McCarthy quickly substitutes a second version of the ad featuring the mug shot. When Democrats and progressive critics of the Bush campaign complain that Bush is running a racist ad, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes says that neither he nor the campaign have any control over what outside groups like “Americans for Bush” put on the airwaves. InsidePolitics will later write, “This gave the Bush camp plausible deniability that helped its candidate avoid public condemnation for racist campaigning.”
Accompanying Newspaper Reports, Bush Campaign Ads - The ad airs for the first time on September 21. On September 22, newspapers around the nation begin publishing articles telling the story of Angie and Clifford Barnes, victimized by Horton while on furlouogh. On October 5, the Bush campaign releases a “sister” television ad, called “Revolving Door.” Scripted by Ailes, the commercial does not mention Horton nor does it show the now-infamous mug shot, but emphasizes the contention that Dukakis is “soft on crime” and has what it calls a “lenient” furlough policy for violent convicts. The central image of the ad is a stream of African-American inmates moving slowly in and out of a revolving gate. The voiceover says that Dukakis had vetoed the death penalty and given furloughs to “first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.” At the same time, Clifford Barnes and the sister of the youth murdered by Horton embark on a nationwide speaking tour funded by a pro-Bush independent group known as the Committee for the Presidency. Barnes also appears on a number of television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera. Barnes and the victim’s sister also appear in two “victim” ads, where Barnes says: “Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton changed our lives forever.… We are worried people don’t know enough about Mike Dukakis.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that the media gives the “Revolving Door” ad a “courteous reception,” and focuses more on the two ads’ impact on the election, and the Dukakis campaign’s lack of response, instead of discussing the issues of race and crime as portrayed by the ads. It is not until October 24, less than two weeks before the election, that anyone in the mainstream media airs footage of critics questioning whether the ads are racially inflammatory, but these appearances are few and far between, and are always balanced with appearances by Bush supporters praising the campaign’s media strategy. (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Cross 11/18/2009)
Denials - Bush and his vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle will deny that the ads are racist, and will accuse Democrats of trying to use racism to stir up controversy (see October 1988).
Failure to Respond - The Dukakis campaign will make what many political observers later characterize as a major political blunder: it refuses to answer the ads or dispute their content until almost the last days of the campaign, hoping that viewers would instead conclude that the ads are unfair without the Dukakis campaign’s involvement. The ads will be hugely successful in securing the election for Bush (see September-November 1988). (Museum of the Moving Image 2008)

Fox News logo.Fox News logo. [Source: Fox News]Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)

Former Vice President Al Gore calls Fox News a virtual arm of the Republican Party. “Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game,” Gore says. “And pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist” (see October 13, 2009). (Auletta 5/26/2003)

Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Anderson writes: “Watch Fox [News] for just a few hours, and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on television. When CBS and CNN would lead a news item about an impending execution with a candlelight vigil of death-penalty protesters, for example,” Anderson quotes Fox senior vice president for news John Moody as saying it is “de riguer that we put in the lead why the person is being executed.” Anderson continues, “Fox viewers will see Republican politicians and conservative pundits sought out for meaningful quotations, skepticism voiced about environmental ‘doomsaying,’ religion treated with respect, pro-life views given airtime—and much else they’d never find on other networks” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 50)

Richard Viguerie.Richard Viguerie. [Source: PBS]Conservative marketing expert Richard Viguerie, writing with David Franke in America’s Right Turn, notes: “Conservatives will almost always defend Fox [News]‘s claim to be ‘fair and balanced,’ but they find it hard to do so without a smirk or smile on their face.… They proudly want to claim Fox as one if their own—it’s one of the movement’s great success stories” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49)

Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).

President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama.President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama. [Source: Hollywood Reporter]Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) wins the 2008 election for US president. He replaces President George W. Bush, a Republican. Obama becomes the first African-American president in the history of the US. He defeats Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin in the national popular vote, and by a 365-173 margin in the electoral vote. The Democratic Party also increases its lead in the Senate, with a 56-41 margin, and a 255-175 margin in the House of Representatives. Finally, Democrats gain a +1 margin in the nation’s 11 gubernatorial elections. (National Public Radio 11/2008; Sieff 11/5/2008) Obama will begin his four year term as president on January 20, 2009, after a transition period (see January 20-21, 2009).

White House communications director Anita Dunn says that the White House believes Fox News is not a traditional, non-partisan news provider, but a media outlet for the Republican opposition. Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party,” Dunn says. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Dunn continues: “[W]e’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.… We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Fox News 10/12/2009) In late September, Dunn told a reporter: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” (Scherer 9/30/2009) Fox News retorts that its news reporting segments, which its vice president Michael Clemente defines as being broadcast between “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays,” are non-partisan, and criticism of the White House and Congressional Democrats is limited to commentary by on-air personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (see October 13, 2009). “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Clemente says, and adds that the White House is intentionally conflating Fox’s news programs with its opinion shows: “It’s astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part.… Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality. Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.” Another Fox News vice president, Bill Shine, welcomes the criticism, saying, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Fox News has recently hired more outspoken conservative media figures, including former ABC News reporter John Stossel for its spin-off channel, Fox Business, and is reputedly negotiating to hire commentator Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dunn and others say that it will not ostracize Fox News, and its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, will continue to be welcome at White House press conferences. Clemente has instructed Garrett, news anchor Shepard Smith, and other Fox reporters not to appear on some of its commentary programs. However, the White House has limited appearances by its members on Fox News shows; in mid-September, when President Obama made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox, and the White House called Fox an “ideological outlet” instead of a legitimate news provider (see September 18-19, 2009). White House advisers note that in the past, Fox News hosts have falsely accused Obama of attending an Islamic “madrassa” to receive indoctrination in radical Islam (see January 22-24, 2008), promoted “tea party” rallies against the government (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 28, 2009), called Obama “unpatriotic” for attempting to land the 2016 Olympics for the US (see October 2, 2009), and led a push to force low-level White House adviser Van Jones out of his job (including accusations from Beck that Jones was a “communist-anarchist radical”). The White House notes that Beck and other Fox commentators regularly lie about the day’s events, and cites a recent example where Beck complained that Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, when Garrett had asked a question of the president that same day. Beck has repeatedly called Obama a “racist,” leading to a boycott of advertisers for Beck’s show (see July 28-29, 2009). (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Ariens 10/11/2009) Fox News encourages and promotes the dispute with the White House, and its ratings improve. Later, a Fox News executive tells Clemente that the White House’s attacks were like “a hanging curveball” for the network. (Sherman 5/22/2011)

A screenshot of the logo for Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show.A screenshot of the logo for Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show. [Source: Fox News]According to an analysis by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Fox News has become the place for eight former Bush administration officials and other Republican lawmakers, strategists, and future presidential candidates to espouse their views (see October 13, 2009). Media Matters says “[a] revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel… further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.” Media Matters analyzed Fox News broadcasts aired between September 1 and mid-October.
Karl Rove - The former deputy chief of staff of the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s chief political adviser, is now labeled as a political adviser and commentator for Fox. He appears, on average, twice a week, usually on prime-time programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Dana Perino - Formerly the White House press secretary, Dana Perino is now a frequent contributor and analyst for Fox, and writes a column for Fox Forum. Perino appears most often on Hannity’s show, though she has made several appearances on Fox Business Channel.
John Bolton - The former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is now a regular Fox contributor and analyst.
Mike Huckabee - Mike Huckabee, the ex-governor of Arkansas and dark-horse presidential candidate in 2008 has his own show, Huckabee, on Fox. Frequently, Huckabee directs viewers to “go to balancecutsave.com,” which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter’s salary.
Newt Gingrich - Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been a regular on Fox since singing a contract with the network in 1999 after resigning from the House in disgrace.
John Kasich - Formerly a Republican House member from Ohio and now a candidate for governor of Ohio, John Kasich used to host a show on Fox, Heartland with John Kasich. He is a regular contributor and commentator on several Fox prime-time broadcasts.
Dick Morris - A Republican who once crossed party lines to advise then-President Clinton, Dick Morris is a frequent guest on Fox, appearing at least 20 times since September 1, usually on shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, or Greta Van Susteren. During the 2008 election cycle, Morris repeatedly urged viewers to donate to an anti-Obama political action committee, without divulging that the PAC had paid a firm connected to him. Morris also uses his Fox appearances to raise funds for a conservative group of which he is chief strategist.
Frank Luntz - Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, regularly appears on Fox shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, who asked Luntz to instruct his audience on the signs “the tea party people should be carrying.” (Media Matters 10/26/2009)

Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee.Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee. [Source: Huffington Post]The online news site Politico publishes an analysis of Fox News’s choice to actively and openly promote four of its paid contributors—Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee—as viable candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. “How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?” ask reporters Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey. “With the exception of Mitt Romney [R-MA], Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office,” they write, and note that Fox’s competitors are expressing increasing frustration at their inability to interview any of Fox’s contributors. Some Republican insiders, they write, are calling the four “the Fox candidates.” It is “uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox,” the reporters note. C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully recently said that his network was denied an interview with Palin because Fox refused to give permission for her to appear on a “rival” network (C-SPAN is a government-funded news outlet that is considered relentlessly non-partisan). And, the reporters write, “Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC all report similar experiences.” Martin and Hagey write that the issue is one of basic “journalistic fairness and propriety,” and continue: “With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee. Their Fox jobs allow these politicians an opportunity to send conservative activists a mostly unfiltered message in what is almost always a friendly environment. Fox opinion hosts typically invite the Republicans simply to offer their views on issues of the day, rather than press them to defend their rhetoric or records as leaders of the party.” Fox News has said that once any of the four officially declare their candidacy for president, they will have to sever their contract with the network, but, the reporters note, Fox News is “such a lucrative and powerful pulpit that Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee have every reason to delay formal announcements and stay on contract for as long as they can.” Palin, for one, is already appearing in many early primary states, giving the strong impression that she is either preparing for a presidential run herself or laying the groundwork for a major role as a supporter of another candidate. However, Fox News isn’t saying one way or the other, and because of her exclusive contract with Fox, no other network reporter can ask Palin about her plans. As of late September 2010, only Gingrich has appeared on any other network, having made two appearances on ABC and three on NBC since January. He and the other “Fox candidates” have appeared dozens of times on Fox News during this time period. “The idea of the four prospects—and especially the former Alaska governor—facing media questions only on a network that both pays them and offers limited scrutiny has already become a matter of frustration in the political and journalistic community,” Martin and Hagey write. Within Fox News, there are some officials who have spoken anonymously about their unease at the idea of paying candidates they are supposed to cover. As yet, no one in senior management has instructed Fox News reporters on how to treat their colleagues and presumed presidential contenders. “The cold reality is, nobody at the reporter level has any say on this,” says a source familiar with the situation. “They’re left in the lurch.” And potential candidates who do not work at Fox are beginning to chafe at the disparate amount of coverage granted them by the network. One aide to an unnamed Republican considering a run for the presidency told a Fox employee, “I wish we could get that much airtime, but, oh yeah, we don’t get a paycheck.” Republican strategist Jim Dyke, who is not currently working for any potential 2012 GOP candidate, says that after the November midterm elections, the issue will become more visible. “As it becomes clear somebody is looking at running, Fox gets into a bit of a box because doesn’t it become an in-kind contribution if they’re being paid?” he asks. For her part, Palin seems quite comfortable staying exclusively within the friendly environs of Fox News, and has even advised other Republican candidates for office to “[s]peak through Fox News” (see September 15-16, 2010). (Martin and Hagey 9/27/2010)

Four of Fox News’s presumptive presidential candidates. Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee.Four of Fox News’s presumptive presidential candidates. Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee. [Source: Huffington Post]New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. (Sherman 5/22/2011)


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