Roger Ailes, the founder and longtime chief of the Fox News Channel, died on Thursday at the age of 77, his family announced in a statement. Ailes was one of the most powerful and influential figures in all of television news, but his legacy was clouded in the last year by allegations of sexual harassment.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning,” his wife, Elizabeth, said in the statement. “Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary, and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise — and to give back.” Ailes launched the network in 1996 and grew it to one of the most powerful forces in conservative media, an outlet that nurtured and grew some of the biggest stars in cable news, but also had a dark side that was fully exposed last year and led to Ailes ouster from the network.
Ailes’ abrupt departure from Fox News in the summer of 2016 — and indeed his legacy — was tainted by scandal. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against the network and its parent company alleging sexual harassment by Ailes. Carlson’s suit also accused the network chief of fostering a workplace atmosphere that was hostile to women. Carson, in a wily move, reportedly recorded conversations she’d had with Ailes in which he made inappropriate and sexually-charged remarks to her. Within weeks, he and Fox News parted ways. Ailes walked away with a $40 million severance package, which drew criticism at the time, but the fallout of his demise there has had a ripple effect that’s lasted for nearly a year and, perhaps, culminated last month with the ouster of Bill O’Reilly, the network’s highest-rated on-air personality. Tina Brown, Women in the World founder and CEO, spoke to that complicated legacy when reflecting on Ailes’ death. “Ailes was an extraordinary producer and one of the best raconteurs ever,” she said. “The awful harassment revelations are not only way to remember him.”
Brown went on to recall getting to know Ailes decades ago, describing him as a witty political operative and later TV producer who, over time, was practically consumed by a deep sense of paranoia.
“Roger was a genius producer. I got to know him in the ’80s at Vanity Fair when he was still a political consultant and he was one of the best storytellers I ever sat next to,” she remembered. “Funny, unfiltered, shrewd and full of killer insights about politics, people, media. As he got older he became increasingly paranoid. He came to a dinner at our house two years ago and sat with his cane, still hilarious, but also deeply paranoid. He really believed jihadists were going to assassinate him on the way to work, really believed there was a deep dark conspiracy of liberals trying to sell America out. Made four calls to us ahead of time to check who else would be in the room.”
Brown spoke to the underlying forces that seemed to motivate Ailes. “I think under the bravado he was a deeply wounded man. It was little known that he was a hemophiliac, and no doubt, as an unattractive youth who couldn’t play sports, he suffered a lot in his high school years, leaving scars that raged every night through the psyche of Fox News.”
According to Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine, Ailes death was the result of complications from a blood clot that developed after suffering a fall recently.
On Twitter, conservative news aggregator Matt Drudge, paid tribute to the late cable news powerhouse and said that he’d visited Ailes at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. Along with the message, Drudge shared a photo of Ailes and Elizabeth, perhaps one of the final public images of the complicated figure.
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