Founder of Fox News al­tered me­dia landscape

Vet­eran GOP strate­gist cre­ated a ca­ble jug­ger­naut

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Stephen Battaglio

When Ru­pert Mur­doch launched a 24-hour news chan­nel nearly two decades ago, he turned to Roger Ailes, a brash, vet­eran TV pro­ducer and strate­gist for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who helped get Richard Nixon and Ge­orge W. Bush elected by im­prov­ing their im­ages through tele­vi­sion.

Mur­doch con­tended that a con­ser­va­tive ca­ble news net­work was needed to counter “lib­eral” CNN.

Ailes, how­ever, told The Times in 1996 that the new net­work would not have any po­lit­i­cal bias. “We just ex­pect to do fine, bal­anced jour­nal­ism,” he said.

Ailes, 77, who died Thurs­day, would go on to cre­ate a ca­ble news jug­ger­naut at Fox News that pro­vided an out­let for con­ser­va­tives who felt their views were un­der­rep­re­sented by the ma­jor broad­cast net­works.

But Fox News also would al­ter how Amer­i­cans view the me­dia, ush­er­ing in the era of per­son­al­ity-driven, opin­ion­ated jour­nal­ism that now dom­i­nates the ca­ble news busi­ness.

“Roger Ailes un­der­stood the power of tele­vi­sion to shape the pub­lic agenda more than most, and he used it to great par­ti­san ef­fect in sup­port­ing an ide­ol­ogy fo­cused on con­ser­va­tives,” said Rich Han­ley, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity.

Ailes’ death caps a pe­riod of tur­moil at

Fox News, which is still fac­ing law­suits over al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment by women who worked at the net­work.

Ailes was ousted in July 2016 af­ter em­bar­rass­ing al­le­ga­tions that he had sex­u­ally ha­rassed former an­chor Gretchen Carl­son. He dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions, but he faced ad­di­tional claims of mis­con­duct and the com­pany paid $20 mil­lion to set­tle the suit.

He also was a sub­ject of an on­go­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether 21st Cen­tury Fox vi­o­lated any se­cu­ri­ties laws in its han­dling of pay­ments to women to re­solve sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims.

He was re­ported to have re­ceived $40 mil­lion in an exit agree­ment with Fox.

Though Ailes left in dis­grace, his legacy as a pow­er­ful force in the me­dia busi­ness and the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal cul­ture will be last­ing.

“No one did more to change the me­dia landscape than Roger Ailes, but no me­dia ex­ec­u­tive did more to di­vide Amer­ica,” said Joe Pey­ron­nin, a former net­work news ex­ec­u­tive who worked for Fox be­fore Ailes was hired to launch the news chan­nel. “Ailes was a bril­liant TV ex­ec­u­tive who saw an op­por­tu­nity two decades ago to build a con­ser­va­tive news source and seized it.”

While lib­eral crit­ics char­ac­ter­ize Fox News as a right-wing pro­pa­ganda chan­nel, Ailes did suc­ceed in cre­at­ing a full-fledged news op­er­a­tion that broke the hege­mony of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN — all of which were seen by a large seg­ment of the coun­try as be­ing too sym­pa­thetic to lib­er­al­ism.

Not only did Fox News pro­vide a plat­form for con­ser­va­tive voices, it made other news or­ga­ni­za­tions con­sider the point of view in their cov­er­age.

“I do think part of Roger’s legacy is that other news­rooms al­ways won­dered: How will Fox play this?” said Neal Shapiro, former NBC News pres­i­dent. “And part of Roger’s game plan was to draw sharp dis­tinc­tions be­tween the way Fox would cover a story and the rest of the me­dia would do it.”

Ailes was also a larger-than-life per­son­al­ity known for ruth­lessly at­tack­ing his com­peti­tors as if they were op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.

Rick Ka­plan, a former pres­i­dent of CNN, re­calls how Ailes de­scribed the es­tab­lished chan­nel as the “Clin­ton News Net­work,” per­pet­u­at­ing the idea that the chan­nel fa­vored the Clin­ton White House. Ka­plan was a per­sonal friend of Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton be­fore he took over the ca­ble chan­nel.

The two ended up be­com­ing friends, and Ailes even called Ka­plan’s mother to as­sure her that his pub­lic com­ments were just busi­ness and not per­sonal.

Ka­plan said Ailes was also a bril­liant TV pro­ducer who was keenly aware that even with talk­ing heads, he was work­ing in a vis­ual medium. Fox News al­ways had state-of-the-art graph­ics and an­i­ma­tion. His pen­chant for putting at­trac­tive women on the air, with legs dis­played on the set, was well­known.

“Roger has a very vis­ually pleas­ing net­work in terms of look and color and form,” Ka­plan said.

Ailes was so ef­fec­tive in the way he pro­duced and pack­aged TV pro­gram­ming that he was able to take per­son­al­i­ties who were lit­tle­known or had lim­ited suc­cess else­where and turn them into stars.

Ailes took a jour­ney­man tele­vi­sion cor­re­spon­dent, Bill O’Reilly, and turned him into ca­ble TV’s most pop­u­lar host, with an aura of the ed­u­cated guy at the end of the bar who wasn’t afraid to give his opin­ions. Ailes dis­cov­ered a young lo­cal ra­dio talk-show host in At­lanta, Sean Han­nity, and made him a TV star.

“To this day I have no earthly idea why I was hired and not fired early on, as I had lit­tle tele­vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence when I was hired by FNC,” Han­nity said in a state­ment. Ailes “saw some­thing in me and many others he hired that we never saw in our­selves, and for­ever changed the tra­jec­tory of thou­sands of peo­ple’s lives.”

Ailes died af­ter fall­ing at home and in­jur­ing his head, ac­cord­ing to the Palm Beach County med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice. It said the cause of death was com­pli­ca­tions of a sub­du­ral hematoma, with he­mo­philia as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

Ailes was known to be in poor health.

“The ac­tu­ar­ies say I have six to eight years. The best ta­bles give me 10. Three thou­sand days, more or less,” he told bi­og­ra­pher Zev Chafets in 2012.

“Be­cause of my he­mo­philia, I’ve been pre­pared to face death all of my life,” Chafets’ book, “Roger Ailes Off Cam­era,” quotes him as say­ing. “As a boy I spent a lot of time in hos­pi­tals. My par­ents had to leave at the end of vis­it­ing hours, and I spent a lot of time just ly­ing there in the dark, think­ing about the fact that any ac­ci­dent could be dan­ger­ous or even fa­tal. So I’m ready. Ev­ery­body fears the un­known.”

Some former col­leagues on Thurs­day praised Ailes’ con­tri­bu­tions.

“Many peo­ple out there would say he saved this coun­try by start­ing the Fox News Chan­nel,” said Ains­ley Earhardt, the co-host of “Fox & Friends.”

Han­nity asked the me­dia to leave Ailes’ fam­ily alone to al­low them to grieve. “But know­ing that peo­ple that hated him and his politics, and those that for­get ‘all have sinned and fallen short’ and ‘cast the first stone,’ I doubt that will hap­pen,” he tweeted.

At the time of Ailes’ res­ig­na­tion, Ru­pert Mur­doch, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of 21st Cen­tury Fox and a long­time Ailes sup­porter, said: “Roger Ailes has made a re­mark­able con­tri­bu­tion to our com­pany and our coun­try. Roger shared my vi­sion of a great and in­de­pen­dent tele­vi­sion or­ga­ni­za­tion and ex­e­cuted it bril­liantly over 20 great years. Fox News has given voice to those who were ig­nored by the tra­di­tional net­works and has been one of the great com­mer­cial suc­cess sto­ries of mod­ern me­dia.”

In a state­ment read on the air Thurs­day, Mur­doch said ev­ery­one at Fox News was “shocked and grieved” by Ailes’ death.

On so­cial me­dia, news of his death prompted many who had a dif­fer­ent view of Ailes and his legacy to take him to task for al­legedly cre­at­ing a hos­tile work­place for women and mi­nori­ties. In­stead of a hero, some saw Ailes as a pro­moter of big­otry and fear, who left be­hind a cul­ture of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the net­work he built.

“Ailes was a mon­ster who was pushed out of the net­work he founded be­cause dozens of women who had worked for him came for­ward and re­ported that he had sex­u­ally ha­rassed them,” said Matt Gertz, a se­nior fel­low at Me­dia Mat­ters for Amer­ica, a lib­eral me­dia watch­dog. “And the legacy he leaves be­hind is a pro­pa­ganda ma­chine he cre­ated in his own im­age that has done in­cal­cu­la­ble dam­age to the coun­try.”

Born in War­ren, Ohio, on May 15, 1940, Roger Eu­gene Ailes made his early rep­u­ta­tion as a strate­gist and me­dia ad­vi­sor to Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates, be­gin­ning with Richard M. Nixon and in­clud­ing Pres­i­dents Rea­gan and Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

His be­hind-the-scenes work to shape a more ap­peal­ing tele­vi­sion im­age for Nixon dur­ing his suc­cess­ful 1968 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was chron­i­cled in Joe McGin­niss’ best­selling book, “The Sel­lling of the Pres­i­dent.”

Dur­ing his ear­lier days as a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, Ailes was a sought-af­ter de­bate coach, work­ing with Rea­gan in 1984 and ready­ing then-Vice Pres­i­dent Bush for his pres­i­den­tial de­bates with Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Mas­sachusetts in 1988. Af­ter his res­ig­na­tion from Fox News last sum­mer, Ailes helped Trump pre­pare for his tele­vised de­bates with Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Ailes of­ten told the story of how he pre­pared Rea­gan for his sec­ond de­bate with then-Vice Pres­i­dent Wal­ter F. Mon­dale in 1984. Ailes asked Rea­gan, then in his early 70s, how he would han­dle be­ing asked about his age.

Rea­gan’s an­swer dur­ing the de­bate was mem­o­rable: “I will not make age an is­sue of this cam­paign,” he said. “I am not go­ing to ex­ploit for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses my op­po­nent’s youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ailes took the helm at CNBC in 1993 and helped boost its rat­ings and rev­enue. In 1994 he launched Amer­ica’s Talk­ing, an all-talk ca­ble chan­nel that NBC later turned into MSNBC. He was pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of both NBC-owned chan­nels un­til he re­signed in early 1996.

Ailes was hired to cre­ate the Fox News Chan­nel to be an al­ter­na­tive to the es­tab­lished TV news net­works. Its aim was to reach an au­di­ence out­side the New York-Wash­ing­ton me­dia nexus and speak to peo­ple who be­lieved that tra­di­tional Amer­i­can val­ues were be­ing aban­doned and that gov­ern­ment in­ter­fered too much in their lives.

But many ob­servers blame Ailes for ush­er­ing in the era of opin­ion-based jour­nal­ism that has eroded trust in the me­dia.

“He helped craft an enor­mous gulf of dis­trust be­tween peo­ple and news,” said Jeffrey Jones, di­rec­tor of the Ge­orge Fos­ter Pe­abody Awards at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. “He took ide­o­log­i­cal and par­ti­san talk­ing points and called it ‘news.’ That is the bril­liance and the detri­ment of how Ailes has im­pacted the news in­dus­try.”

Ailes was a skilled TV pro­ducer, but he was not a jour­nal­ist. When he ar­rived at Fox News, the com­pany al­ready had a vet­eran net­work news ex­ec­u­tive for­merly from CBS, Joe Pey­ron­nin. “Roger asked me to con­tinue,” Pey­ron­nin re­called. “He told me, ‘I don’t know any­thing about the news.’ ” Pey­ron­nin said he had no in­ter­est in stay­ing on to be a part of a plan to work for what Ailes called an “al­ter­na­tive news net­work.”

Fox News Chan­nel was not driven by jour­nal­ism as much as it was a col­lec­tion of peo­ple who talked about the news in a way no one else on tele­vi­sion was do­ing.

Fox News started gain­ing trac­tion dur­ing the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings of Pres­i­dent Clin­ton in 1998 and truly took hold af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks. By the end of 2002, the chan­nel had passed CNN to be­come the top rated ca­ble news chan­nel, and it has re­mained No. 1 ever since.

Ailes is sur­vived by his wife, El­iz­a­beth, and their son, Zachary.

Jim Cooper As­so­ci­ated Press

PO­LAR­IZ­ING AND CON­TRO­VER­SIAL Roger Ailes was ousted from Fox News in July 2016 af­ter em­bar­rass­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Ron Ed­monds As­so­ci­ated Press

PER­SON­AL­ITY-DRIVEN JOUR­NAL­ISM Ge­orge H. W. Bush re­ceives some ad­vice from his me­dia ad­vi­sor, Roger Ailes, right, be­fore the start of a ses­sion at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 1988.

Drew Angerer Getty Im­ages

LARGER-THAN-LIFE PER­SON­AL­ITY Ailes, shown with his wife, El­iz­a­beth, was known for at­tack­ing his com­peti­tors as if they were po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.

Su­san Biddle Wash­ing­ton Post/Getty Im­ages

A ME­DIA STAR-MAKER Ailes took Bill O’Reilly, left, a jour­ney­man tele­vi­sion cor­re­spon­dent, and turned him into ca­ble TV’s most pop­u­lar host.

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