Roger Ailes, controversial founder of Fox News, dead at 77

Roger Ailes, the embattled longtime chairman and chief executive of Fox News, has died, according to a statement by his wife obtained by the  Drudge Report early on May 18.

The statement provided by Elizabeth Ailes called the king of conservative news “a patriot, [and] profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise — and to give back.”

Ailes was born in Warren, Ohio, and attended Ohio University, where he majored in radio and television and served as the manager of the student-run radio station.

Ailes’ first venture into the Republican political world involved working with then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon as a campaign staffer tasked with polishing Nixon’s image and prepping the candidate for TV interviews, which resulted in him eventually getting elected.

His early career in journalism was highlighted by an interview with Nixon, where the two discussed politics, with Nixon bemoaning the “gimmick” of television.

He also worked on the campaign of Ronald Reagan, and has been credited with guiding George H. W. Bush to victory.

“He dragged the Republican Party into modernity,” wrote Jack Shafer in an article for Politico. “Ailes was a revolutionary in reactionary clothing.”

In addition, Ailes reportedly advised President Donald Trump on debate preparation during the 2016 presidential election.

In 1996, Ailes became the head of the newly created Fox News, brainchild and pet project of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. His bluntness and hatred of “liberal media elites” made him the perfect choice to forge ahead with this project, which at the time was not a guaranteed success.

Under Ailes’ leadership, it only took Fox News six years to surpass CNN in ratings, which had a 16-year head start.

Ailes’ fine line between media and politics made him a target for watchdogs who called his network biased and an advertising platform for the Republican Party.

Ailes dismissed these claims in his 2013 authorized biography, Roger Ailes off Camera, saying, “We’re not programming to conservatives, we’re just not eliminating their point of view.”

Roger Ailes was a hands-on executive, and was often highly involved in everything from big-picture decisions to selecting on-air content and talent.

Fox News, both under Ailes and after his departure, is notably different than its counterparts in cable news, mainly in the way it regularly admonishes the so-called mainstream media and promotes debunked political theories.

His later years were punctuated by sexual harassment accusations and an unfriendly parting with Fox in July 2016. Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit, which prompted other women to come forward, was the beginning of the end for Ailes.

Soon after the lawsuit, Ailes was removed from his position, though Fox has continued to suffer losses. In the past 10 months, top earner Bill O’Reilly has been fired, Co-President Bill Shine lasted only eight months and anchor Jesse Watters was accused of sexual harassment.

The icy relationship between the former king and his kingdom can be seen postmortem in how his death was announced: a statement by his wife to the Drudge Report rather than to Fox.

“So, it seems like no coincidence that when Ailes died Thursday morning, his widow snubbed Fox News and gave the scoop to the Drudge Report,” wrote Callum Borchers in the Washington Post’s analysis of Ailes’ death announcement.

Though Ailes helped grow Fox News into the conservative news titan it is today, he will be remembered just as much for his many controversies and for the women who accused him of making their lives miserable.

While we can’t yet be sure of Ailes’ legacy, it will surely include his assistance in putting Trump in the White House and how he inspired a generation of women to stop putting up with harassment in the workplace.

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