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Profile: John Little McClellan
John Little McClellan was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
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