Former Fox News chief Roger Ailes dead at 77
Ailes resigned amid sexual harassment scandal last year
Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a money-making ratings powerhouse and force in U.S. politics before resigning last year amid a sexual harassment scandal, has died at age 77.
Fox News, based in New York City, announced Ailes's death on air, citing a Drudge Report statement from his family.
"I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning," said the statement quoting his third wife, Elizabeth Ailes. "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 died after a fall at his Palm Beach, Fla., home on May 10 caused bleeding on the brain, the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office said. Ailes fell in his bathroom, hit his head and was bleeding profusely. He was taken to a hospital by attending paramedics, the Palm Beach Police Department said.
According to a police report, a 911 caller just before 2 p.m. ET that day said Ailes was not responding appropriately to questions and was still on the ground. Paramedics arrived within a minute and he was taken to a hospital.
CNN reported he subsequently fell into a coma.
Ailes, who'd most recently been at CNBC, accepted a challenge in the early 1990s from conservative News Corporation media titan Rupert Murdoch to build a news network from scratch.
Deeply saddened by death of Roger Ailes. He had many critics and like ALL of us his sins, but I remember a great patriot, friend and boss.—@GovMikeHuckabee
He helped mould Fox News which went on air in 1996, and it soon began to air coverage highly critical of president Bill Clinton.
It became the highest-rated U.S. cable news network by a large measure, but despite its "Fair and Balanced" tag line, courted controversy and criticism for its hyper-partisan coverage.
"Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes," Murdoch said in a statement. "A brilliant broadcaster, Roger played a huge role in shaping America's media over the last 30 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."
'He did it for a better country'
Fox News has promoted itself as a defender of patriotic American values, a stance evident in the network's on air-tributes to Ailes on Thursday morning.
"Many people out there would say that he saved this country by starting the Fox News Channel," said Fox and Friends host Ainsley Earhardt.
"He did it for a better country," Hannity echoed. "That's where his heart was coming from."
Clinton was gone as a target in 2000, but the network soon regained its footing with heavy coverage of the threat of terrorism after the 9/11 attack on U.S. soil and the subsequent military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Big government, liberals frequent targets
During the next administration, in contrast to other news networks, Fox gave airtime to reports suggesting the next president, Barack Obama, was not American born or Christian.
Other favoured themes in the network's news coverage over the years under Ailes's aegis included examples of bureaucratic red tape and overspending at all levels of government, the scourge of political correctness and perceived slights against Christians — the latter two themes both exemplified in on-air outrage over the use of "happy holidays" as a December greeting instead of Merry Christmas — and regular criticism of the apparent misdeeds and statements of "elite" Hollywood celebrities with liberal views.
Ailes in recent years hired a number of former Republican politicians as on-air contributors and he was unapologetic in his view that even news coverage was a business.
"I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings," he told The Associated Press in 2011 about the former Alaska governor and onetime Republican vice-presidential candidate.
That kind of attitude hinted at deeper issues within the network – former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes last year, claiming sexual harassment. Other women also came forward with similar allegations directed at Ailes and men employed at the network, including prime star Bill O'Reilly, who was forced to resign.
Ailes's departure was announced in July 2016, with reports of a highly lucrative exit package.
Carlson settled a lawsuit for a reported $20 million US.
Fox is also facing a lawsuit in New York from eight former and current employees alleging the network of systematic racial discrimination dating back years.
With Ailes's sacking, Murdoch, the parent company's executive chairman, became interim boss of Fox News and Fox Business Network until a successor could be found.
Accusations from star host Kelly
Fox News gave considerable airtime to Donald Trump's presidential campaign beginning in 2015.
Trump was a favoured guest of prime time host Sean Hannity, but bristled over a question about his treatment of women from Fox's top female presence, Megyn Kelly, as she moderated an August 2015 Republican debate.
Trump then assailed Kelly the next day in an interview with CNN with sexist comments that elicited outrage.
"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever," Trump said.
Kelly left the network earlier this year for NBC and accused Ailes in her book Settle for More of trying to forcibly kiss her, and other unwanted advances.
"But suffice it to say, he made sexual comments to me, offers of professional advancement in exchange for sexual favours," Kelly wrote.
Despite the reason for his departure from Fox News, Ailes was reportedly still acting as an informal adviser to Trump.
As recently as this week, Politico reported that Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Roger Stone co-ordinated with Ailes to help "monitor and undermine the ousted Fox chief's perceived adversaries."
Prior to his employment at Fox News, Ailes was involved in Republican politics and communicating a conservative agenda dating back a half-century.
Other presidential ties
After working on TheMike Dougas Show, Ailes come to prominence nationally in the political arena by helping produce town hall-type events for local television markets for the campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968.
His role in helping Nixon — who famously appeared untelegenic in a 1960 presidential debate with John F. Kennedy — was soon explored in Joe McGuiness's book The Selling of a President.
In the book, Ailes admitted Nixon was "dull" and "funny looking."
"That's why these shows are important," Ailes is quoted as saying. "To make [voters] forget all that."
Ailes went on to consult with a number of other Republican politicians, including Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Breaking News: Former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has died, his family announced. <a href="https://t.co/AksPdNSZaI">pic.twitter.com/AksPdNSZaI</a>—@FoxNews
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press