Roger Ailes, the founding CEO of Fox News in 1996, was 28 years earlier a media consultant to Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and prominently featured in "The Selling of the President 1968," an expose of the efforts to sell Nixon on television like soap, to create an image of a "New Nixon" after his devastating defeats in 1960 and 1962. Ailes was very successful in repackaging Nixon. The public believed it. When Nixon became president in 1969, Ailes strategized on how he and other Nixon aides could "circumvent the "prejudices of network news" and deliver "pro-administration" stories to heartland television viewers. If the public expressed skepticism about Nixon, his loyalists and Republican diehards like Ailes blamed "the liberal media" -- CBS, ABC, and NBC television news networks broadcasting out of New York, along with The New York Times and The Washington Post and thought up schemes to go around the mainstream media. John Cook explained on Gawker.com in 2011:
"A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News" (read it here) is an unsigned, undated memo calling for a partisan, pro-GOP news operation to be potentially paid for and run out of the White House. Aimed at sidelining the "censorship" of the liberal mainstream media and delivering prepackaged pro-Nixon news to local television stations, it reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype...
The 15-page plan begins with an acknowledgment that television had emerged as the most powerful news source in large part because "people are lazy" and want their thinking done for them.
In the fall of 1973, Nixon lost almost complete control of his presidential narrative. Vice President Spiro Agnew suddenly resigned and pleaded no contest to tax evasion. When Nixon fired independent Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox for insubordination, public opinion overall and even his base of support began to turn against him, just one year after he won an historic landslide re-election. As Michael Goldfarb recalled in Salon, the banner headline in The New York Times that fateful day in 1973 was:
NIXON DISCHARGES COX FOR DEFIANCE;
ABOLISHES WATERGATE TASK FORCE
RICHARDSON AND RUCKLESHAUS OUT
For the first time since Watergate erupted, a plurality of Americans thought Nixon should be impeached. The calls for impeachment came from legislators as well — and not just Democrats; a fair number of Republicans joined in. They did so to preserve a basic, nonpartisan precept of our democracy: The president is not above the law...
Five days after the Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon held a press conference. Deference had long since exited the relationship between the president and the reporters who covered him. Toward the end of the session the following interchange took place. A reporter asked: “What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?” Nixon answered, “Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger … You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.” He came back to the theme a few minutes later. “When a commentator takes a bit of news and then with knowledge of what the facts are distorts it viciously, I have no respect for that individual.”
A four-decade-long war on the press’s legitimacy had begun. The idea that it was a biased liberal press that made the molehill of Watergate into a mountain of Constitutional crisis took root.
Fox News, which Ailes established in 1996 for Rupert Murdoch, has completely changed the political climate. For all the complaining about a liberal "mainstream media," the conservative network IS the most watched news network, or actually the mainstream media.
Newsweek published an essay, "If Watergate Happened Now":
From a distance, Watergate seems like a partisan affair. But that's because we tend to look at it nowadays through red- and blue-tinted glasses. In truth, President Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 by Republicans in Congress like Barry Goldwater, who realized from the so-called smoking-gun tape that he was a crook. This was after the Supreme Court--led by a Nixon appointee--unanimously ruled against him in the tapes case.
If Watergate happened now, conservative media would be there to vigorously defend Nixon. Fox News chairman Ailes would ban the word "Watergate" from news broadcasts and package the story as "Assault on the Presidency." The American people would conclude both sides were just spinning partisan, "and a tie always goes to the incumbent." Any mistakes by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein -- and they made several -- would be pounced upon and magnified. They might be subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, and when they refused to reveal their sources, could be jailed for contempt. Their mysterious source, Deep Throat, who turned out to be Mark Felt of the FBI, would be smoked out by conservative media or some blogger, then vilified as a "traitor." With a partisan Supreme Court divided 5-4, Nixon wouldn't be forced to turn over tape recordings revealing he participated in the Watergate cover-up. Indeed, he would get away with burning the tapes, surviving as president and finishing his term, which would have ended in 1977.
And worst of all, his famous words, "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal," would have set a very dangerous precedent for the future. America would become, not a nation of laws in which no person, not even the president, was above the law, but of powerful autocrats or even dictators.