Coors, Fox, Watergate and Trump… Oh my!

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Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly

Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera recently told network host Sean Hannity that President Nixon would have survived the Watergate scandal if Fox News had been on the air at the time.

Hannity was hyperventilating on his radio show about how Trump is being persecuted by the FBI, the Justice Department and Bob Mueller. His guest, Rivera, chimed in with these intriguing remarks:

“Nixon never would have been forced to resign if you existed in your current state back in 1972, ’73, ’74. … It’s too bad for Nixon, because nobody like you existed then. I say that because I believe that our prime responsibility now is to unshackle the 45th president of the United States.”

As it turns out, the Nixon White House was attempting to create an entity such as Fox News. In 2011, Gawker uncovered a 1970 document by Nixon aides entitled “A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News.”

It was a partisan, pro-Republican news operation to be potentially paid for and run out of the White House that would counter the “censorship” of the supposedly liberal mainstream media and deliver prepackaged pro-Nixon news to local television stations. It didn’t get off the ground.

But a few years later, Boston investment banker and former ABC Radio president Robert Pauley decided to create a rightwing TV news service, which would sell fully produced video packages to local stations. Pauley had been an enthusiastic supporter of Barry Goldwater and a member of the John Birch Society (a group which claimed that Communists controlled liberal and even moderate politicians as well as the civil rights movement and labor unions).

Pauley approached Colorado beer baron Joe Coors for money. Gabe Sherman notes, “Coors represented a new breed of conservative philanthropist — ideologically rigid, religiously fervent, immensely wealthy — who poured millions into bringing about a right-wing revival that braided the strands of Christianity, nationalism and free market economics into a political force.”

With millions from Coors, Television News Incorporated (TVN) was established. Joe said he was bankrolling the enterprise because, “network news is slanted to the liberal-left side of the spectrum and does not give a balanced view to the American public.” He hired seven experienced print and broadcast journalists. Dick Graf, who had been the news director of WNBC TV in New York, became TVN’s news director. He told Coors, “There will be days when I’ll put pieces on the air that will make your flesh crawl because of your personal beliefs. But I’ll be doing it because of my professional news judgment, and I’ll play them down the middle.” Coors replied, “That’s what we want you to do.”

Coors had his political assistant, Jack Wilson, monitor TVN’s content for him. Before TVN went on the air, Wilson gathered numerous story ideas from conservative legislators on Capitol Hill. Graf resisted these suggestions. Soon Wilson and Coors wrote him that his coverage, “requires a more balanced presentation of the news than the service has thus far exhibited.” Wilson sent angry memos. He told Graf that TVN shouldn’t cover a press conference by the American Civil Liberties Union because the ACLU is, “generally recognized as the legal arm of the extreme left if not the Communist Party.” He asked why should Graf interview an associate of Martin Luther King when everyone knew King, “was an avowed communist revolutionary.”

Coors was also upset. “Why are you covering Daniel Ellsberg? He’s a traitor to this country,” he yelled at Graf. At a board meeting, Coors said Graf’s news instincts were “socialistic.”

Coors fired Graf and made Wilson the president of TVN. “I hate Dan Rather,” Wilson complained. “I hate all these network people. They’re destroying the country. We have to unify the country. TVN is the moral cement.” Most of the network-trained journalists were purged.

They decided to hire a young public relations consultant named Roger Ailes as the news director. He had never been a journalist. He was a Republican political operative best known for transforming the image of Richard Nixon in the 1968 campaign. He had been involved with the failed 1970 Nixon White House plan to create a Republican news service. Soon TVN would also go down the tubes.

The day before Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, he nominated Joe Coors to sit on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

During the confirmation hearings, Senate Democrats asked embarrassing questions about Coors’ ownership of TVN. They forced him to admit he supported, “the thoughts and ideas” of the far right John Birch Society and had given the organization $6,000. The National Council of Hispanic Citizens and the G.I. Forum (a Chicano veterans group) testified about the racist practices of the Coors company. At the same time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed discrimination charges, saying that the company had, “intentionally engaged in unlawful employment practices” for 10 years against blacks, women and Hispanics. The confirmation fight went on for 14 months.

Ailes would go back to campaign work for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In 1996, Rupert Murdoch hired him to start Fox News. He gave us horror stories of America-in-perpetual-crisis: rising racial conflict, a war on Christmas, unchecked immigration, Benghazi. Now we don’t have to tune in because we have a president who repeats the Fox News horror stories in his tweets every morning.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.