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Context of 'Summer 1970: Nixon Media Consultant Details Plan for Dominating Television News Coverage; Plan Will Form ‘Prototype’ of Fox News'

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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).

Entity Tags: Rick Pearlstein, George C. Wallace, Richard M. Nixon, Roger Ailes

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. [Roger Ailes, 1970; Gawker, 6/30/2011] In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” [Rolling Stone, 7/1/2011]
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “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.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. [Roger Ailes, 1970; Gawker, 6/30/2011]
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” [Gawker, 6/30/2011; Rolling Stone, 7/1/2011] A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” [Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011]

Entity Tags: John Cook, George C. Wallace, Fox News, Bush administration (43), Ailes Communications, H.R. Haldeman, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Television News Incorporated, Tell it to Hanoi Committee, REA Productions, John Stennis, John Little McClellan, Nixon administration, Roger Ailes

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970) who proposed a White House-run “news network” that would promote Republican-generated propaganda over what he calls “liberal” news reporting (see Summer 1970), moves on to try the idea in the private venue. Ailes works with a project called Television News Incorporated (TVN), a propaganda venue funded by right-wing beer magnate Joseph Coors. Conservative activist and Coors confidant Paul Weyrich will later call Ailes “the godfather behind the scenes” of TVN. To cloak the “news” outlet’s far-right slant, Ailes coins the slogan “Fair and Balanced” for TVN. In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write: “TVN made no sense as a business. The… news service was designed to inject a far-right slant into local news broadcasts by providing news clips that stations could use without credit—and for a fraction of the true costs of production. Once the affiliates got hooked on the discounted clips, its president explained, TVN would ‘gradually, subtly, slowly’ inject ‘our philosophy in the news.’ The network was, in the words of a news director who quit in protest, a ‘propaganda machine.’” Within weeks of TVN’s inception, its staff of professional journalists eventually has enough of the overt propaganda of their employer and begin defying management orders; Coors and TVN’s top management fire 16 staffers and bring in Ailes to run the operation. The operation is never successful, but during his tenure at TVN, Ailes begins plotting the development of a right-wing news network very similar in concept to the as-yet-unborn Fox News. TVN plans to invest millions in satellite distribution that would allow it not only to distribute news clips to other broadcasters, but to provide a full newscast with its own anchors and crew (a model soon used by CNN). Dickinson will write, “For Ailes, it was a way to extend the kind of fake news that he was regularly using as a political strategist.” Ailes tells a Washington Post reporter in 1972: “I know certain techniques, such as a press release that looks like a newscast. So you use it because you want your man to win.” Ailes contracts with Ford administration officials to produce propaganda for the federal government, providing news clips and scripts to the US Information Agency. Ailes insists that the relationship is not a conflict of interest. Unfortunately for Ailes and Coors, TVN collapses in 1975. One of its biggest problems is the recalcitrance of its journalists, who continue to resist taking part in what they see as propaganda operations. Ailes biographer Kerwin Swint will later say, “They were losing money and they weren’t able to control their journalists.” In a 2011 article for the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, John Cook will write: “Though it died in 1975, TVN was obviously an early trial run for the powerhouse Fox News would become. The ideas were the same—to route Republican-friendly stories around the gatekeepers at the network news divisions.” Dickinson will write that one of the lessons Ailes learns from TVN, and will employ at Fox, is to hire journalists who put ideological committment ahead of journalistic ethics—journalists who will “toe the line.” [Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011; Gawker, 6/30/2011] Ailes will go on to found Fox News, using the “fair and balanced” slogan to great effect (see October 7, 1996 and 1995).

Entity Tags: Paul Weyrich, John Cook, Fox News, Ford administration, Joseph Coors, Nixon administration, Television News Incorporated, Tim Dickinson, Roger Ailes, United States Information Agency, Kerwin Swint

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace.Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace. [Source: Kansas City Star]Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50] Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 326; Reeves, 2001, pp. 480]
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Howard Simons, W. Mark Felt, George S. McGovern, Ken Clawson, E. Howard Hunt, Arthur Bremer, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, George C. Wallace

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

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; NewsBusters, 1/25/2008; Rolling Stone, 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. [NewsBusters, 1/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Rich Noyes, CBS News, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Gary Paul Gates, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

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; New York Magazine, 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.” [New York Magazine, 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.” [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011; Rolling Stone, 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.” [New Yorker, 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.” [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Eric Burns, Tim Dickinson, Neil Cavuto, Dan Cooper, Steve Doocy, Joe Peyronnin, John Moody, David Frum, Sean Wilentz, News Corporation, Scott McClellan, Jack Welch, Tony Snow, MSNBC, Brit Hume, Television News Incorporated, Ronald Reagan, Roger Ailes, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean Hannity, Neil Chenoweth, Ed Rollins, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Nixon administration, Dan Rather, Bob Wright, Rupert Murdoch

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations.Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” [Washington Post, 5/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bill Pierce, Bush administration (43), Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, General Accounting Office, US Department of Health and Human Services

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, General Accounting Office, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic.Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).

Congress passes a law clarifying and expanding its earlier ban on government propaganda. The new law bans the use of federal money to produce any news story (see March 2005) that does not openly acknowledge the government’s role in producing and slanting that story. The new law dramatically restricts the ability of the federal government to produce and disseminate fake news stories (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) in local news broadcasts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 173]

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Premiere Radio Networks logo.Premiere Radio Networks logo. [Source: Premiere Radio Networks]Premiere Radio Networks, the company that distributes radio shows by an array of right-wing hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, announces that 98 out of 350 advertisers, including a number of major corporations, have requested that their ads only appear on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).” The Premiere email says, “Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.” Limbaugh vilified law student Sandra Fluke for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012), and though he issued an apology on his Web site (see March 3, 2012), advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his show in increasingly large numbers (see March 2, 2012 and After) following a widespread outcry of anger against Limbaugh’s rhetoric. Now, large advertisers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Subway Restaurants have asked that their advertising be removed from Premiere’s right-wing talk shows. Industry insider Valerie Geller tells a reporter: “I have talked with several reps who report that they’re having conversations with their clients, who are asking not to be associated with specifically polarizing controversial hosts, particularly if those hosts are ‘mean-spirited.’ While most products and services offered on these shows have strong competitors, and enjoy purchasing the exposure that many of these shows and hosts can offer, they do not wish to be ‘tarred’ with the brush of anger, or endure customer anger, or, worse, product boycotts.” For nearly two decades, Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the movement that insisted conservative talk shows on radio and television must counterbalance what he and others have termed the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media (see Summer 1970, October 7, 1996, October 9, 2002, October 8, 2003, December 2004, December 14, 2005, December 19-20, 2005, December 21, 2005, May 2008, October 23-24, 2008, February 24, 2009, and August 11, 2009). After cable television and Internet access fragmented the market, “niche” audiences such as Limbaugh’s have provided the most reliable listenership and viewers, and the highest comparative ratings. However, the demographics are changing for right-wing talk. Limbaugh, Levin, Savage, Hannity, and others generally rate best among aging white males, a demographic that is less profitable than it used to be. Now, the prize advertising demographic is women aged 24 to 55, a demographic that has been leaving the right-wing talkers in steadily increasing numbers, and now makes up the forefront of the angry pushback against Limbaugh over his public savaging of a young female law student over a political disagreement. Some, including Limbaugh’s brother, right-wing talk show host David Limbaugh, have complained of a “left-wing jihad” against conservative radio hosts. However, as reporter John Avlon writes: “[T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.” Moreover, the advent of social media has made the response time for protesters and angry consumers almost immediate. Geller says: “In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute. But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.” Avlon concludes: “When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.” [Radio-Info.com, 3/9/2012; Daily Beast, 3/10/2012]

Entity Tags: Mark Levin, Valerie Geller, General Motors, Geico, Ford Motor Company, Allstate, John Avlon, Tom Leykis, Toyota Motor Corporation, State Farm, Premiere Radio Networks, Michael Savage, McDonald’s, Prudential, Subway Restaurants, Glenn Beck, Sandra Fluke, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” [Consortium News, 5/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Fox News, David Koch, Washington Post, William Casey, William Simon, Central Intelligence Agency, Associated Press, The New Republic, Sun Myung Moon, Walter Raymond, Jr, Ronald Reagan, New York Times, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Parry, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Olin Foundation, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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