Roger Ailes, Founding Chairman of Fox News, Dies at 77

by Paige Albiniak  |  05.18.2017

Roger Ailes, founding CEO of Fox News, died Thursday at the age of 77. Ailes, a known hemophiliac, died of a brain bleed after falling and hitting his head, according to reports.

"I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning," said his wife, Elizabeth, in a statement on Thursday that was first released on The Drudge Report. Matt Drudge was a good friend of 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. 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. And so even as we mourn his death, we celebrate his life."

Ailes was best known as the controversial and hard-charging CEO of Fox News, which he launched more than two decades ago on October 7, 1996. He resigned from the network, which redefined the conservative movement in this country, on July 21, 2016. At the time, Ailes was facing several sexual harassment accusations led by Gretchen Carlson, who filed a lawsuit against the network after her contract was not renewed last June. Several women also came forward to file their own claims, and two of the network’s biggest stars — Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren — departed in the scandal’s wake.

Ailes’s long-time boss, Rupert Murdoch, said in a separate statement, "Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes. 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. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs. At 21st Century Fox we will always be enormously grateful for the great business he built. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Elizabeth and son Zachary.”

Prior to being recruited by Murdoch to launch Fox News, Ailes was president of CNBC and had launched another cable news network called America’s Talking. That network, ironically, became Fox News’ liberal-leaning rival, MSNBC in a partnership between NBC and Microsoft. 

Ailes grew up in a blue-collar home in Ohio, and studied radio and television at Ohio State University. After college, he took a low-level job at The Mike Douglas Show and quickly worked his way up to executive producer at the age of 25. The job gave him access to some powerful people, including Richard Nixon.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nixon complained to Ailes that television was a “gimmick” that had cost him the 1960 election. Ailes, who already understood the power of television, cautioned the future president to have more respect for the medium. Nixon hired Ailes as a consultant for his ultimately successful run in 1968. Ailes did not stay with Nixon once he was in the White House, though, and instead started his own political and media consulting firm, Ailes Communications, working with many other politicians.

In 1984, he helped get Ronald Reagan elected, and did the same in 1988 for George H. W. Bush. He was named president of CNBC in 1993.

In the hours after the world learned of his death, reactions came pouring in from people on both the right and the left sides of the aisle, including Governor Mike Huckabee, Geraldo Rivera, Laura Ingraham and David Axelrod. 

Former President George H. W. Bush tweeted:

And Fox News anchor Sean Hannity read a lengthy statement on air that said, in part: “Today America lost one of its great patriotic warriors. RA. For decades, RA has impacted American politics and media. He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly for the better. Neither will ever be the same again as he was a true American original.” 

Others were far less generous. Dr. Jeffrey Jones, director of the Peabody Awards, said that “no single individuals has done more harm to American democracy in the last generation. He ushered in the post-truth society. Through a constant drumbeat of fear, anger and hatred, he turned citizen on citizen. Helped craft an enormous gulf of distrust between people and news.”

READ MORE: The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times

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