Smith began by referring to Ailes as a “media genius, revolutionary in American politics, shaper of American history, uproariously funny man with now well documented flaws...I loved him.” Smith went on to recount his initial encouters with Ailes, and how the founder of Fox News rallied the network’s early employees when it was looked at as a poor imitation of rivals MSNBC and CNN.
“There was an underdog spirit here that was exhilarating,” Smith continued. “And our leader was inspiring like none other. We worked not for Fox News but for Roger Ailes and he was with us in the bunker fighting for respect and fighting for viewers. Fighting to win. Our enemies were MSNBC and CNN. We would conquer them and become the most powerful name in news and we would do it as a team and we would reap the rewards from it, all of us.”
Smith had to pause momentarily to wipe tears from his eyes as he said that Ailes provided continuous support in those early days when he was sent on assignments like covering the mass shooting at Columbine high school and the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. He went on to describe the first time he introduced his partner, Gio, to Ailes and his family at a Fourth of July party at Ailes’ home.
“We’d not attended a work function the two of us together before,” he said. “Beth took my Gio by the hand and gave him a tour of that estate. They’d never met – it was personal, just the two of them. She, and Roger, treated Gio and me like family. It was a signal to our Fox team and to everyone else that our relationship is a good thing. Respect it. Roger had and he did…We ate barbeque, laughed through the day into night. I’ll never forget it.”
Of course, Ailes was most prominently in the news of late when allegations of sexual harassment forced him to resign from Fox News. “[Last] year we began to learn of another side of Roger Ailes,” Smith said. “Another part of his life. I didn’t believe it could be true at first. This man I so admired, despite our differences. It all came to a head as hundreds of us were in Cleveland for the Republican convention. The accusations were mortifying. All cameras were trained on us, all of them. We were the news. Tears flowed daily off-camera.”
“To the true victims, respect and comfort,” he concluded. “It’s all so complicated. Everything here was and is… as he was. Roger Ailes was a patriot. He was the biggest personality and the most influential and powerful man I ever personally encountered. He changed my life and the lives of everyone in my family forever, for generations to come. He guided me and supported me and protected me and he told me he loved me like a father. And I love him. To his wife Beth, his son Zach, the rest of his family and close friends, sincere condolences. And great respect. Roger Ailes dead today at 77. May he rest in peace.”
Watch Smith’s entire tribute to Ailes here.