Roger Ailes, who became one of the most powerful figures in both U.S. politics and media by turning the Fox News network into a booming voice for conservatives before he was brought down by sexual harassment charges, has died at the age of 77.
Ailes worked as a media strategist for Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before launching Fox News in 1996.
His wife Elizabeth said in a statement on Thursday he was a patriot who was profoundly grateful for the opportunities his country gave him.
As founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox News, Ailes became one of the most influential figures in the Republican Party, and the network was integral to U.S. President Donald Trump’s successful run for the White House in 2016.
From the start, Ailes had a clear conservative vision of what he wanted Fox to be as he took the network to the top of the cable news ratings and made it a major profit center for Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc media empire.
But accusations of Ailes’ treatment of women would be his downfall.
In July 2016, Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America who appeared on the popular “Fox and Friends” morning program before being given her own show, sued him. She said he had made sexual advances toward her and then hurt her career in retaliation after she rejected him.
Two weeks later, Ailes was ousted from the network with a $40 million severance package. His departure came during the Republican National Convention and at a time when the network was scoring record ratings. Shortly afterward, he began advising the Trump campaign.
Ailes had run Fox News under the slogan “fair and balanced” and conservatives found it a much-needed antidote to the perceived liberal slant of traditional media. Critics denounced it as a cynical and polarizing right-wing propaganda machine.
“He helped market a brand of pseudo-journalism that revolves basically around hate, rhetoric, divisiveness, pitting people against each other,” Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America, told Reuters. “That seeps into the culture and into politics.”
The story of Fox News was the story of Ailes. His conservative red-white-and-blue beliefs set the narrative for the network’s stories, and critics said it was difficult to determine where Ailes’ agenda ended and Republican Party talking points began. No potential Republican presidential candidate stood much of a chance without Ailes’ blessing.
“I want to elect the next president,” he told Fox executives at a 2010 meeting, according to the 2014 biography “The Loudest Voice in the Room” by Gabriel Sherman, a writer for New York magazine.
“Ailes’ power and ruthlessness … allowed him to take over the Republican Party and mold it to fit his paranoid world view,” Sherman told the Washington Post in 2016.
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