Roger Ailes, Fox News Founder Who Was Forced Out by Scandal, Dies at 77

Roger Ailes
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Roger Ailes, a towering figure in TV news and politics whose long run was tarnished by the sexual harassment scandal that forced him out last year as head of Fox News, has died. He was 77.

Fox News confirmed Ailes died on Thursday morning, three days after his 77th birthday. He was known to have battled health problems in recent years.

Ailes died of complications from a blood clot that formed after he suffered a fall last week at his home in Palm Beach, Fla. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office ruled the death an accident on Thursday afternoon. Ailes also suffered from hemophilia, which contributed to his death, according to the medical examiner’s statement.

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In a statement, Ailes’ wife Elizabeth called her husband “a patriot who was profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise and to give back.” She hailed him as “a loving husband and father” who had wide-ranging impact in his professional life.

“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,” Elizabeth Ailes said. The statement also asked the public to respect the Ailes’ family privacy “at this time of sorrow and grief.” The family did not confirm details of his death, which reportedly stemmed from a fall he took at his Florida home earlier this month.

A master of communication, Ailes represented the convergence of television and politics. With the determination of a pit bull, he helped shape public opinion, first as an adviser to presidential candidates Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush and, later, as a television news executive: The founder and president of Fox News Channel turned it into a franchise with a vast footprint in politics as well as television.

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The underdog news operation took on category leader CNN, eclipsing the channel in the ratings with a lineup of opinion-oriented talk hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and largely maintained its stability while the competition underwent change after change.

Ailes also established a famously hard-charging culture at Fox News. He was known for his bare-knuckle approach to dealing with competitors and those who he saw as adversaries. The old-school newsroom culture of Fox News was laid bare last July when former anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes personally for sexual harassment, asserting that she was fired after refusing his request for sexual favors. Within a month, after Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox initiated an internal investigation, Ailes was forced to resign as Fox News chairman-CEO, a swift fall from power that stunned the media industry.

Just last month, Ailes’ longtime star anchor, Bill O’Reilly, was also forced out of Fox News after 21 years because of a cascade of sexual harassment allegations. Bill Shine, longtime Fox News programming executive, was forced to resign as co-president on May 1 amid internal and external pressure that he took no action in the face of questionable behavior by O’Reilly and other Fox News executives.

The fallout from the Ailes and O’Reilly scandals has prompted ongoing investigations by the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Service on whether Fox News parent 21st Century Fox properly accounted to shareholders for legal settlement payments in connection with the harassment allegations. After Ailes was forced out, Rupert Murdoch took the reins as chairman of Fox News. The company is said to have quietly begun the process of looking for a new CEO.

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Never one to mince words, Ailes had an uncanny ability to discern what the public wanted, which served him well both in politics and business.

Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan became a daily indictment of the so-called mainstream media. Ailes also appeared to relish the role of potential kingmaker — assuming even more power when the Republican Party appeared to be in disarray after Barack Obama’s election, and regularly employing and advising Republican politicians between runs for office. GOP officials, from Sarah Palin to Mike Huckabee, often kept their profiles up through Fox News talent deals after (and sometimes between) campaigns.

While Fox prided itself on loyalty under Ailes, the executive was also known to be a formidable enemy, pushing back hard against unflattering news coverage. This kind of behavior came into focus when writer Gabriel Sherman wrote an unauthorized biography of Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country,” published in January 2014.

Thanks to his success, Ailes had enormous clout within Rupert Murdoch’s empire, so much so that when Ailes clashed with Murdoch’s son Lachlan during the early 2000s while the younger Murdoch was overseeing the TV stations division, it was the latter who wound up leaving the company for nine years before returning in 2014 as non-executive co-chairman alongside Rupert Murdoch.

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Nor was that Ailes’ last run-in with the Murdoch family. In a 2010 New York Times profile of Ailes, public-relations guru Matthew Freud — then Murdoch’s son-in-law who at the time was married to his daughter Elisabeth — stated, “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”

When Murdoch handed over most of the power in the 21st Century Fox empire to sons Lachlan and James in June 2015, Ailes initially declared that he would continue to report directly to Rupert. Fox was later forced to clarify that position, and the executive was told to report to Lachlan and James, although Ailes was to say privately that his success allowed him to run Fox independently, without significant input from the elder Murdoch.

Born in Warren, Ohio, Ailes graduated from Ohio University before venturing into the television business. His first job was as a property assistant on “The Mike Douglas Show,” which was then locally produced out of KYW-TV in Cleveland. At age 25, Ailes was tapped executive producer of the talk-variety show, which became syndicated nationally. He won Emmy Awards in 1967 and 1968 for his work on the show.

While he was exec producing “Mike Douglas,” Ailes debated Richard Nixon, one of the show’s guests, about the role of television in politics. Soon after, Nixon called on Ailes to serve as a media adviser to his 1968 presidential campaign.

In 1969, Ailes founded Ailes Communications in New York and consulted for various businesses and politicians. Ailes also got involved in theater, producing the Broadway musical “Mother Earth” in 1972 and the Off Broadway play “Hot-L Baltimore,” which ran from 1973-76 and earned him four Obie Awards.

In addition to his theater work and political consulting, Ailes continued to work in television. He produced and directed a television special, “Fellini: Wizards, Clowns and Honest Liars” for which he received an Emmy Award nomination in 1977.

During the 1970s and ’80s, Ailes continued to serve as a political consultant for various candidates, including Ronald Reagan during his 1984 presidential campaign. Ailes is widely credited with coaching Reagan to victory in the second presidential debate with Walter Mondale after he had faltered during the first debate. Appropriately, that same year, Ailes executive produced and directed a television special. “Television and the Presidency,” for which he won an Emmy Award.

In 1987, Ailes co-wrote a book with Jon Kraushar, “You Are the Message: Secrets of the Master Communicators,” which instructed readers in his communication strategies. The following year, Ailes served as George Bush’s media strategist, guiding him to victory over Michael Dukakis.

In 1992, Ailes retired from political and corporate consulting to return full-time to television. He worked as a top consultant and/or executive producer for numerous syndicated television shows, including “A Current Affair,” “The Maury Povich Show” and “The Leeza Show.”

Ailes lured conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to television for a latenight syndicated show, executive produced by Ailes, but it never took off. In 1993 Ailes was named president of NBC’s business news and talk network CNBC. He was also tapped to help form another NBC cable network, America’s Talking, an information-talk channel that later morphed into MSNBC. America’s Talking debuted on July 4, 1994, with Ailes hosting his own nightly show “Straight Forward.”

Between America’s Talking and CNBC, Ailes was responsible for more live programming than any other television executive in America – 31.5 hours daily. He also created the CNBC “Talk-All-Stars” concept, attracting such notable names as Tim Russert, Geraldo Rivera, Chris Matthews and Dee Dee Myers.

Under his leadership, CNBC established itself as the fastest-growing cable network in America, and its ratings and profits increased dramatically. Ailes also oversaw the network’s 1996 worldwide expansion to Europe and Asia. Despite these successes, Ailes had a falling out with management and was eventually pushed out of CNBC.

Ailes joined Fox News in February 1996 to launch the network’s first weekly public affairs show, “Fox News Sunday.” He also oversaw the launch of Fox News Channel, which skeptics thought would never be able to compete with CNN. Against all odds, with enormous investment from what was then Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the personality-driven network surpassed CNN to become the No. 1 news network in the U.S.

Ailes hired O’Reilly, who quickly became the network’s primetime star. Ailes also hired Geraldo Rivera, with whom he had worked while he was at CNBC.

In addition to his wife of nearly 20 years, Ailes’ survivors include a son, Zachary.

The family requested that donations be made to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.

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  1. Toni says:

    The women are now cursed.
    And their lawyers.

  2. mitsos4 says:

    Hes family should be ashamed of themselves..! scumbags

  3. Jeff Gyro says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, our national nightmare is over.

  4. Toni says:

    The women are now cursed.

  5. John says:

    Murdered.

  6. Alex says:

    And the left as always expose themselves as the vile scum they are…and they love to expose themselves. Example Bill Clinton, when he buys the farm you libs are going to love my comments, NOT!

    • Steve says:

      Don’t be disingenuous. Many people on both sides make nasty posts when someone from the other side dies (which of course, we all will do someday). I don’t do this, because I don’t feel it benefits me in any way. I don’t tell others not to do that, because I’m not their mommy, but that’s how I roll. I know that plenty of conservatives see it my, as do many of my fellow liberals. But neither side is superior to the other in this regard.

    • Jay says:

      Bill Clinton pushed liberalism so far to the right, that not even two decades prior, he would be your run of the mill moderate republican. Screw ’em, say your worst. Roger Ailes was a wretched man, who led an indefensible life — from his Nixon years to taking gutter journalism so low, it scrapped through the bottom of the barrel. Today we lost a partisan hack, who exploited the ignorant, the angry, the repressed and those ignored by elitist neoliberals and neocons, by spoonfeeding them bile and hate. Ailes was an obstacle to progress.

  7. jim says:

    now he gets his 72 virgins.

  8. PO says:

    Patriot?! is there no shame?

  9. Bill says:

    All hail the examples of liberal tolerance and compassion on this comment board! LOL

    As sane people know, if it weren’t for double-standards, today’s liberals would have no standards at all. Now, cue all the snowflakes who ‘cleverly’ claim, “Intolerance of intolerance it not intolerance,” thus not only begging the question but proving my point.

    Go for it, grubers. But know, your opinion means nothing anymore. LMAO

    • DC says:

      You misspelled “conservative” Bill. By the way, the biggest Snowflake of them all is President Snowflake aka #45 aka Don The Con. He has a lot in common with Ailes, both were bloated sexual predators with more money and power than human kindness and empathy.

  10. SmileyFace says:

    Some good news for a change. Nice. Won’t be missed.

  11. Kathie says:

    Patriot, indeed! Fox has been nothing more than the personal RT of the Republican party. I spit on Roger Ailes’s grave.

  12. DanDan says:

    It’s a start.

    …Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
    The wretch, concentred all in self,
    Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
    And, doubly dying, shall go down
    To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
    Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.(Sir Walter Scott)

  13. 633sq says:

    RIH👹

  14. Chloe Runaway says:

    Who cares, a more important member of society died today who wasn’t a horrible human being. RIP Chris Cornell.

  15. Judgement day has come upon the republicans ,Roger Ailes is in Hell,,waiting on Hannity , limbaugh and trump, Have a nice eternity

  16. Jeff Gyro says:

    They will be crying into their Mountain Dew all over the Country tonight. Sad.

  17. Anthony Footit says:

    Awesome that you could get in a dig right there in the title. I get the impression that you dislike the guy who proved the hyper partisan business model of Fox News would work for CNN and MSNBC. I hope the media is just as kind to you when you pass on, great job.

  18. JPK says:

    LIFE ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Widespread destruction of civil political dialog in the United States. Estimated 5X reduction in the attention span of U.S. news audiences achieved over a two-decade span. Modernization of the “if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it” doctrine. Substantial body of evidence for career achievements in sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power. Instrumental to political deception and disempowerment of middle-class america. Successfully spearheaded political movement that led to further polarization of wealth inequality, and the “empathy is for suckers” sentiment that has come to characterize 21st century America.

  19. This article is revisionist history.

    Ailes killed the free press in America by destroying journalism objectivity and replacing it with with political partisanship. He misled generations of the poor and middle class so they could not cast an informed vote to advance their own interests.

    This is the guy who turned news into propaganda and you laud him?

    The person who wrote this article is a liar and a coward. And they’e so proud of the lie that is this shameful story that you didn’t even have the guts to put it under your byline.

    Victor Epstein
    Journallism Lifer

  20. No one contributed more to the polarization of American political discourse than Roger Ailes. A day of reckoning; I am sure there is a special place reserved for him where he is going. A death of a person is no cause for celebration. The death of Ailes brand of cancerous conservatism would be a cause to break out the Champaign. I’m thinking Tuesday, November 3, 2020 would be the time.

  21. JT12345 says:

    Liberals showing what kind caring people they are!

    • Steve says:

      Gosh. Remember when Ted Kennedy died?

    • Smith Cassidy says:

      Yawn. Weak. Nobody mourns the death of a villain.

      To celebrate Ailes death, we should vote to strip healthcare from millions, prevent people of color from voting, bring back the war on drugs (gotta love for profit prisons), eliminate assistance aimed at helping the poor, gut environmental protections (clean air and water are overrated), and give additional tax breaks to the wealthy.

      Con compassion at its finest.

    • Bill says:

      Spot on. Because…

      …if it weren’t for double-standards, today’s liberals would have no standards at all.

    • tmm2112 says:

      That doesn’t work any more since conservatives have proved they have absolutely not principles.

    • And perverted conservatives have proved what they are dAILY

  22. Senor Plaid says:

    Well, that was conveniently timed, and Ken Lay is dead, too, right?

  23. GladURgone says:

    GOOD RIDDANCE

  24. Scoobs says:

    “With the determination of a pit bull”. My pit is only determined to keep the bed warm. Please don’t compare this scumbag to one of the most wonderful animals on the planet.

  25. Ailes is as responsible as anyone for the miserable state of American politics and governance.

  26. Biju nair says:

    His motto now: Make Hell a great place (for those have missed the bus)

  27. YS says:

    His corpse will pollute whatever outhouse they discard it in.

  28. Susan Pedone says:

    You are saying the same thing, terrible person! Duh!

  29. Yakov Strovano says:

    Remembered by few, missed by no one.

  30. Kate White says:

    Double chins and no neck…not exactly a picture of health…can’t say I’m surprised…let’s see, who else fits the double chin, no neck mold…that’s practically all of the GOP.

  31. JT12345 says:

    A great man who revolutionized media! You will be sorely missed! RIP

    • Jeff Gyro says:

      Lets be honest. He made a laughing stock out of his “journalists.” Those desperate people would say anything to get Rogers attention. Imagine that fat fuk with his hot dog breath, cornering your daughter in his office, holding her career between his legs.
      Burn in hell asshole.

  32. RoadKillHeaven says:

    Karma is a bitch.

  33. john says:

    A traitor to America. He hurt our country and our news media for money. And then of course there was the sexual harassment. I’m sure his wife was proud.

    • Jeff Gyro says:

      He turned a generation of Americans into a cult of ignorance with his fake news.
      Just look at our bumbling President and his flock of low info fan boys. Roger Ailes is responsible.

  34. mitsos4 says:

    well with that attitude you will not be missed when its your turn

  35. Cheryl H says:

    What is wrong with the headline? It states the facts.

  36. Jeff Gyro says:

    Right. We should pretend he was a decent human being because he just died.

  37. upL8N8 says:

    I’m an atheist… we don’t believe in hell. Although, the fact is, one’s life is eternal. Ailes will forever be known as an evil / destructive force in our nation, and an awful human being to boot. His last days on this Earth were lived in shame as he was forced out of his career over his deplorable transgressions.

    We all can see the complete picture of who the man was, and that picture wasn’t rosy. He should by all means, absolutely be remembered as one of the nation’s most hated individuals.

    You don’t need everlasting rotting / burning in hell as a penalty for what you did in life. You just need to end like everyone else. For all the bad he did for this country to stoke his own ego, he still ends up where the rest of us end up… in the ground where his $100 million dollars in wealth buys him nothing.

  38. JT12345 says:

    Hopefully you will rot in hell! scumbag!

  39. chris says:

    The headline on your article about states it all…

    I will not lower myself to read your article. Even in death you cannot uphold the most basic standards of decency.. nevermind objective journalism..

    As a matter of fact , I will never read anything your company is involved with. Roger Ailes is a person, with a family and people that love him. There are also many people he has supported and affected positively in his lifetime. These people are grieving and your lack of respect for them is disgusting.

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