August 4, 1999
Democrats' Dilemma: Deeper than Al Gore
The modern history of this Right-Wing Machine dates back at least to the first years of Richard Nixon's presidency.
Beset by growing public outrage over the Vietnam War, Nixon determined that Republicans needed a more compliant media to promote their points of view -- and to make his hardball political strategies work.
On Sept. 12, 1970, while at Camp David, Nixon arose late one morning and began barking orders. He "has several plots he wants hatched," wrote his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in The Haldeman Diaries.
"One to infiltrate the John Gardner 'Common Cause' deal and needle them and try to push them to left. Next, a front group that sounds like SDS to support the Democratic candidates and praise their liberal records, etc., publicize their 'bad' quotes in guise of praise."
Then, Nixon turned to his pet plan. Nixon was "pushing again on [his] project of building OUR establishment in [the] press, business, education, etc.," Haldeman wrote.
In the months that followed, Nixon kept pushing for an infrastructure that would help him destroy his political enemies.
His anger reached a boiling point when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War. The president demanded counter-leaks in friendly publications to discredit Ellsberg and others involved.
"We're up against an enemy, a conspiracy," Nixon said in a tape-recorded White House conversation on July 1, 1971.
"They're using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear? Now, how do you fight this [Ellsberg case]? You can't fight this with gentlemanly gloves. We'll kill these sons of bitches." [See Stanley I. Kutlers Abuse of Power.]
But Nixon found the press corps harder to manipulate than it was during the early years of the Cold War. He lectured his staff on the need to bully journalists into line. Nixon believed "the press and TV don't change their attitude and approach unless you hurt them," Haldeman recounted on April 21, 1972. "The only way we can fight the whole press problem, [Nixon] feels, is through the [Charles] Colson operation, the nutcutters, forcing our news and in a brutal vicious attack on the opposition."
Two months later, Nixon's pugnacious politics would come a cropper in the Watergate scandal. As the scope of Nixon's criminality slowly emerged, The Washington Post and other major news outlets led the way in exposing the evidence and ultimately forcing Nixon's resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.
The disgraced president retreated to his estate in San Clemente, Calif. But Nixon's followers blamed the "liberal" news media for hounding Nixon from office and for "losing" the Vietnam War. They concluded that a more conservative press was vital to their success.
Taking the lead in this endeavor was Nixon's treasury secretary, William Simon, who was president of the John M. Olin Foundation. In the late 1970s, Simon began pulling together executives of other conservative foundations with the goal of building "OUR establishment."
In 1979, Simon argued in his book, A Time for Truth, that only a strong conservative ideological movement could break the back of the dominant Liberal Establishment. Simon accused this Liberal Establishment of enforcing misguided concepts of "equality" and of being "possessed of delusions of moral grandeur."
To build the Right's "counter-intelligentsia" and to transform the Republican Party into a conservative weapon would require "multi-millions" from business, Simon said. Simon's Olin Foundation allied itself with other like-minded foundations to advance this cause, giving rise to the nucleus of the Right's national infrastructure of think tanks, media and pressure groups.
In 1980, Simon published A Time for Action, which demanded that the "death grip" of the Liberal Establishment and its "New Despotism" be broken. Simon saw the news media as part of the enemy camp. He especially targeted journalists who, Simon charged, "have been working overtime to deny liberty to others."
Through his writing and his actions, Simon emerged as the principal architect of the Right-Wing Machine's financial structure, while others provided more of its intellectual framework. As then-journalist Sidney Blumenthal wrote, "by controlling the wellsprings of funding, Simon makes the movement green." [See The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, published in 1986. Blumenthal is now a special assistant in the White House.]