The difference between Nixon and Trump is Fox NewsRoundup
tags: Watergate, impeachment, Nixon, Trump
Nicole Hemmer, a Vox columnist, is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is an associate research scholar at Columbia University and co-host of the Past Present podcast.
On Tuesday night, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera spoke to Fox News host Sean Hannity, on Fox News, about the role Fox News would play in protecting President Donald Trump from impeachment. “You know, if it wasn’t [for] your show, Sean, they would destroy him absolutely,” Rivera told Hannity, who, when not hosting his television and radio shows, informally advises Trump. “You are the difference between Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon.”
He’s half right. Fox News is playing a critical role in protecting Trump from Nixon’s ultimate fate. But it’s also played a critical role in luring Trump into committing Nixonian misdeeds.
Let’s start with what Rivera got right. Hannity may not save Trump from impeachment, but conservative media outlets have protected Trump’s presidency throughout his first term. They have done so not by winning new allies — his approval numbers remain low with everyone but Republicans — but by ensuring that Republicans in Congress, his real firewall against being removed from office, remain on his side.
Nixon needed a Fox News, and he knew it. When he won the presidency in 1968, he was not in a strong position. He’d led the popular vote by less than 1 percent, Democrats held both houses of Congress, and Nixon was convinced that the press corps was against him. He believed two things were necessary to fully exercise the powers of his new office: a strong, loyal Republican Party and a pro-Nixon media.
Getting the party on his side wasn’t hard. Nixon had earned a reputation as a party man throughout the 1960s. After losing his bid for president in 1960 and California governor in 1962, he went back out on the campaign trail in 1964 and 1966, stumping for every Republican who would have him. He did the same as president — with one exception. In 1970, despite angling to support Republican candidates across the country, he turned on New York’s Republican Sen. Charles Goodell (father of NFL owner Roger Goodell). He threw his support instead behind James Buckley, who ran as a member of the Conservative Party and who ultimately unseated Goodell.
Goodell’s sin? Speaking out against the Vietnam War. Nixon wanted Republicans in office, but they had to be loyal.
The other thing Nixon wanted was his own media outlet. Believing most mainstream outlets were in the tank for the Democrats, he was keenly interested in developing an alternative Republican news source. His administration had explored the idea of GOP-TV with future Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who at the time was a political media consultant. GOP-TV would create pro-administration segments and mail them out to local outlets across the country (a model that was more like Sinclair Broadcasting’s than Fox News’s). At the same time, conservative activists were also developing a scheme for a corporate takeover of CBS, hoping to transform it into a right-wing network.
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