Love him or hate him – and few consumers of media were uncertain — Roger Ailes was widely considered to be the most influential political-media figure of these times.
Ailes died this morning at 77, reportedly of complications from a fall days earlier that put him in a coma. His death, which first was announced on Drudge Report, came less than a year after being ousted from Fox News under a cloud of harassment allegations, triggered by a lawsuit against Ailes filed by former program host Gretchen Carlson. CNN in its coverage of his death called Ailes “The Father of Fox News.”
The former aide to President Nixon started Fox News in 1996. Over 20 years he built it into a cable news network that dominated the ratings and the right wing of American politics; he turned the GOP presidential race into a political The X-Factor, catapulting FNC contributor Donald Trump into the White House.
The man who once produced Rush Limbaugh’s television show and “discovered” Sean Hannity boasted of discrediting the notion that conservatism was a “freak point of view” in the media, once telling Howard Kurtz – back when Kurtz covered the media for CNN and WaPo – “We have forced a dialogue into the news business that did not exist before we got here.”
Ailes was a very polarizing figure in the TV news industry, as evidenced by reactions to his death.
In put-upon rhetoric seldom seen in RIP statements, Hannity wrote: “It would be nice if the media would leave Roger and his family alone in their time of grief but knowing people that hated him and his politics and those that forget ‘all have sinned and fallen short’ ‘and cast the first stone’ I doubt that will happen. But to his enemies know this; I say ADVANTAGE ROGER. In his mind, he just has a headstart in preparing to kick your ass in the next life.
And Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News Channel and its parent 21st Century Fox, called the man he ultimately pushed out the door with a $40M parachute “a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.” “Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have.” That execution turned Fox News into Murdoch’s most valuable asset, a cash cow valued at more than $15B.
Meanwhile, across the aisle, Ailes nemesis Keith Olbermann tweeted cryptically:
And Gabe Sherman, author of the controversial unauthorized 2014 Ailes bio, The Loudest Voice in The Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country, tweeted Thursday morning:
Ailes disliked the media — didn’t trust them — and avoided reporters when he could. Making an extremely rare appearance in 2006 at the TCA Summer Press Tour to fete his network’s 10th anniversary and ratings dominance, some TCA members declined to attend. Those who did got dinged by Ailes, who snarked: “I really want to talk about our journalism. … I actually think that Fox News is underrated in journalism, and some people think that can’t be possibly true. Many of those people are sitting in their hotel rooms right now, reading the transcript of this and then writing their reports rather than coming. So thank you for coming.”