Roger Ailes, former Fox News chief executive, has died

EMBED </>More Videos

Dave Evans has more. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper, File)

Roger Ailes, the communication maestro who transformed TV news by creating Fox News Channel only to be ousted from his media empire at the height of his reign for alleged sexual harassment, died Thursday, according to his wife, Elizabeth Ailes.

He was 77.

His wife announced his death Thursday in a statement that said she was "profoundly sad and heartbroken."

"Roger was my best friend, the most wonderful loving husband and father to our son Zachary," it said. "Roger was a patriot, grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise-and to give back. During a career that stretched over more than five decades, his work in entertainment, in politics, and in news affected the lives of many millions. And so even as we mourn his death, we celebrate his life.

IN MEMORIAM: Celebrities and notable figures who have died recently


Ailes is survived by Elizabeth, his third wife who had worked for him at CNBC as vice president of programming, and their son, Zachary.

The blustery media executive built a network that both transformed the news business and changed the political conversation. Fox News Channel provided a television home to conservatives who had felt left out of the media, and played a part in advancing a rough-and-tumble style of politics that left many concerned that it was impossible to get things done in government.

Ailes ran Fox News since it launched in 1996, turning it into a ratings hit and hugely influential voice in the U.S. political landscape.

He stepped down in 2016 amid allegations of sexual assault. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, sued him for sexual harassment, and other women came forward to support her claims. Ailes resigned July 21.

Rumors of sexual improprieties at Fox News and by Ailes in particular weren't new. Gabriel Sherman's 2014 Ailes biography, "The Loudest Voice in the Room," reported numerous unflattering anecdotes, including an allegation (denied by Ailes) that he offered one female employee extra money if she would have sex with him.

Before Carlson's bombshell legal action, Fox's roaring success and enormous earnings (with some estimates that it accounted for nearly a quarter of the parent company's profits) insulated Ailes from any suspicion as well as from his past scrapes with the sons of parent company's executive chairman Rupert Murdoch over who he would report to.

His dismissal was a headspinning downfall and a breathtaking defeat for Ailes, a man who all his life seemed to be spoiling for a fight and was used to winning them.

With Ailes' sacking, Murdoch became interim boss of Fox News and Fox Business Network until a successor could be found. But Ailes had been so identified with the brand since its inception that many, both insiders and audience members, were left hard-pressed to envision Fox News without him.

In the meantime, the network's talent lineup took a hit as Kelly left for NBC News and Bill O'Reilly was fired amid sexual harassment charges lodged against him.

STATEMENT FROM RUPERT MURDOCH, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, 21ST CENTURY FOX and FOX NEWS CHANNEL

On Thursday, Murdoch issued a statement saying "everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes."

"He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted," it said. "Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs."

Ailes once served as a GOP operative to candidates including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, later serving advising Donald Trump during his campaign last year.

Watch video of Ailes walking into Fox News offices in 2015:
EMBED More News Videos

Roger Ailes arrives at FOX News Corp on November 18, 2015 in New York City.



Born in Warren, Ohio, on May 15, 1940, Roger Eugene Ailes described his working-class upbringing with three words: "God, country, family."

Afflicted with hemophilia, he spent much of his early years housebound in front of, and fascinated with, television, and after graduation from Ohio University landed an entry-level position at a TV station in Cleveland that had just started a local talk and entertainment program starring a has-been former big-band singer named Mike Douglas.

Ailes went to work as a production assistant on "The Mike Douglas Show" and rose in its ranks (at 26, he was named its executive producer) along with its rising fortunes as it went into national syndication and moved to Philadelphia.

It was there in 1967 that he and Nixon crossed paths in a meeting that changed both their lives.

After jumping ship from the "Douglas" show to help steer Nixon to the White House, Ailes spent more than a decade as a communications consultant to corporations and Republican candidates. And as a sign of his versatility, he also became a theater producer, with a hit off-Broadway musical, "The Hot L Baltimore," in the early 1970s, and a network boss, helping start Television News Incorporated, a short-lived right-wing TV service funded by conservative brewing magnate Joseph Coors, that seemed to presage Fox News by a quarter-century.

In 1993, he joined NBC to run its cable business network, CNBC. He was credited with boosting CNBC's ratings and putting that troubled NBC subsidiary in the black. Meanwhile, he created another network, the talk-and-advice-oriented America's Talking.

"I've gotten over all the cynicism of politics," Ailes told The Associated Press in 1995, although, during that same period, Ailes moonlighted as executive producer of the syndicated TV show that starred right-wing radio sensation Rush Limbaugh.

Then, in January 1996, Ailes resigned from NBC after America's Talking was sacrificed to free up channel capacity for the company's cable-news venture, MSNBC.

Within weeks, Ailes had jumped to what was then known as News Corp., and by fall he launched Fox News Channel against a pair of seemingly indomitable rivals: three-month-old MSNBC, the network with which his former employers replaced his America's Talking channel, and cable-news pioneer CNN.

Though ratings continued to soar, in later years Ailes' power was challenged. He seemed incapable of stopping Donald Trump's rise as the GOP's top contender for the 2016 election. In an early televised debate, Fox network moderators, notably Kelly, besieged Trump with sharp interrogation about his experience, his policies and past comments about women. But the real estate mogul's candidacy was undamaged as he lobbed insults at Kelly and her network for what he labeled unfair treatment.

By summer 2016, Ailes and Trump had seemingly reached detente, with Fox News climbing on the Trump bandwagon and vice versa. It was ironic, then, that Ailes was ousted only hours before Trump accepted the GOP nomination for which Fox had helped pave the way.
Related Topics:
newsfox news
(Copyright ©2017 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

Load Comments