Earlier this week, ISIS militants released graphic footage of journalist James Foley’s beheading. Then, right on cue, Fox News identified the real story: President Obama’s suspicious golf habit.
Some headlines: “Obama hits golf course after addressing journalist’s death”! “Obama stays course on golf game after horrific ISIS video”! “Obama under fire for golfing minutes after Foley statement”! “President Obama’s golf problem”! Even former Vice President Dick Cheney got a piece of the action, telling Sean Hannity that Obama would “rather be on the golf course than he would be dealing with a crisis that’s developing rapidly in the Middle East.”
If this mass-assembled outrage sounds familiar, that’s because it’s very old. As former Gawker editor John Cook points out, Fox News president and former Nixon aide Roger Ailes was among the first political strategists to recognize how images of a President playing golf—when broadcast widely on television—can magically become their own meta-story about presidential optics, supplying cost-free political capital to the opposing party. (In this cycle, that meta-story was written by ... The New York Times. Which Fox News quickly aggregated under the following headline: “New York Times Tees Off on Obama Golf Game.”)
Cook, now the editor-in-chief of The Intercept, was the first reporter to publish Ailes’s memos about presidential optics—which ultimately laid the groundwork for the rise of Fox News—after obtaining them through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You can read his dissection of those memos, and much more, below.