Roger Ailes, the media-savvy maven who carved out a conservative niche in U.S. politics and TV news by founding and leading Fox News for two decades before he was forced to resign last year amid sexual harassment accusations, died Thursday at his home in Florida, his wife, Elizabeth, announced in a statement. He was 77.
The announcement of Mr. Ailes‘ death elicited messages of grief from conservative colleagues and friends, who eulogized him as a media revolutionary, mentor and friend while qualifying that he was not without sin.
“He wasn’t perfect,” former President George H.W. Bush wrote on Twitter, for whom Mr. Ailes had worked as a media consultant, “but Roger Ailes was my friend & I loved him. Not sure I would have been President w/o his great talent, loyal help.”
Mr. Ailes died at his home in Palm Beach from complications of bleeding in the brain after a fall, the Palm Beach County medical examiner’s office said Thursday evening. Mr. Ailes had suffered from hemophilia since he was a child, and the coroner’s office said it contributed to his death.
Mrs. Ailes announced her husband’s death in a statement to Fox.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken,” she said. “Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary and a loyal friend to man. He was also a patriot, proudly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise — and to give back.”
“Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes,” Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News, said in a statement. “A brilliant broadcaster, Roger played a huge role in shaping America’s media over the last thirty years.
“He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted. Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have,” said Mr. Murdoch, who had commissioned Mr. Ailes to start Fox News. “In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”
However, the last year of Mr. Ailes‘ life was defined by accusations of sexual harassment of more than 20 women with whom he worked, blackening a career in media and politics that spanned five decades.
“Roger Ailes has died. Let all his victims now be ungagged for the true, full reckoning of his life. And give them back their jobs,” Lisa Bloom, the attorney for Wendy Walsh, who made sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Ailes, wrote on Twitter, according to The Associated Press.
Among the accusations were suggestions that female anchors wear tighter clothes and offers of money and career advancement for women to have sex with him.
Mr. Ailes also was accused of cultivating a misogynistic work environment that led to his downfall and to that of Fox News‘ leading commentator, Bill O’Reilly, also over accusations of sexual harassment.
Mr. Ailes resigned as CEO last year amid this public pressure, leaving the conservative 24-hour news channel he had created and run for two decades. He had positioned Fox News as the antithesis to liberal, mainstream news and increased its viewership to 2 million people.
Mr. Ailes‘ legacy is a “very complicated story,” Gabriel Sherman, author of Mr. Ailes‘ biography, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” told the AP. “He is in some ways a genius and in some ways tragic. His quest for power consumed him.”
Mr. Ailes was born in Warren, Ohio, in 1940, and attended Ohio University, where he majored in radio and television. He began his career in television in the early 1960s, working as a producer on daytime TV’s “The Mike Douglas Show” and then promoted to executive producer.
The AP reported that Mr. Ailes finagled a job with President Nixon, inventing the title of media adviser and steering the president to harness the power of television to win over the public.
He built on these skills in positions with Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
In 1996, Mr. Murdoch approached Mr. Ailes to start a conservative 24-hour news channel to rival that of CNN. He is credited with coining Fox’s tag line “fair and balanced” and launching the careers of conservative media personalities such as Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mr. O’Reilly, Meghan Kelly and Shephard Smith.
Critics charge Mr. Ailes with fostering — and pandering — to the public sentiments of paranoia, bigotry and xenophobia.
However, critics and colleagues agreed that while Mr. Ailes was combative, blunt and forceful in his ideas, he was also described as charming and uproariously funny.
“RIP Roger Ailes — political genius, maverick broadcasting titan & charismatic, flawed human being,” British journalist Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter.
“Roger Ailes founded one of the most important and successful media outlets in American history. I will miss his friendship dearly. RIP,” Ms. Ingraham said on Twitter.
Mr. Hannity praised his old boss for single-handedly changing the political and media landscape.
Mr. Smith spent the first 13 minutes of his show “Shephard Smith Reporting,” remembering Mr. Ailes. He called his former boss an “uproariously funny man with now well-documented flaws. I loved him,” he said.
“Roger helped everyone in his life, and he never spoke of it. He gave his time and his money and his influence, and he gave his heart. Then last year, last year we began to learn of another side of Roger Ailes, another part of his life. I didn’t believe it could be true at first, this man I so admired despite our differences,” Mr. Smith said.
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.