Roger Ailes, the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, died Thursday.
The conservative media mogul passed away just over a week after suffering a fall in his Palm Beach, FL, home. Local authorities ruled his death the result of a subdural hematoma which arose after he hit his head.
One of the most influential businessmen and pundits of the early twenty-first century, Ailes’ later days were pockmarked by controversy.
Responsible for hiring aggressively opinionated anchors like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, Fox’s former helmsman brought into the mainstream what he considered a much-needed counterweight to the perceived biases of evening news.
He derided rival CNN as the “Clinton News Network,” lambasted CBS as a “Communist Broadcasting System,” and built an empire founded by the wealth of Rupert Murdoch.
He wasn't perfect, but Roger Ailes was my friend & I loved him. Not sure I would have been President w/o his great talent, loyal help. RIP.
— George Bush (@GeorgeHWBush) May 18, 2017
Over the decades, Ailes rose from a position on daytime television to become a master of what The New York Times termed “political stagecraft.”
He was responsible for guiding the media strategies of an array of Republican Presidential candidates, from the much-loathed Nixon to the widely admired Reagan.
Following a mantra of interweaving fact with entertainment fancy, Ailes’ approach to Fox, founded in 1996, led it to become the highest-rated network in the nation less than a decade after its inception.
Last year, in the midst of much political drama, Rupert Murdoch made the decision to remove the highly successful Ailes from his 20-year throne as the helmsman of Fox News.
While the company’s long-time chief executive officer could have left a legacy blighted only by liberal malaise, his personal shortcomings, thrust into the public eye in 2016, which defined the last year of his life.
Accusations of sexual harassment against Ailes, brought forward by fired Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, prompted other prominent network personalities to recount instances of verbal abuse, crude suggestions, and lewd remarks.
Some, like Andrea Tantaros, Shelly Ross, and Megyn Kelly, alleged bizarre comments and uncomfortable one-on-one meetings with Ailes, who’d joke about “sexual alliances,” less subtle in his implications than a teenage boy.
Ross complained and was later demoted and dismissed from the network.
By late July of 2016, Ailes resigned from Fox News, taking $40 million as part of an exit agreement.
New York magazine suggested the Murdoch family had told him to leave Fox by August 1st or be fired.
Despite a career that might be described as illustrious by many of the older Americans who constituted the brunt of Fox viewers, Roger Ailes ended his term in what a year earlier would have been called an unpredictable ouster.
The man who attributed the success of broadcast media to human laziness is the same who now stands as a testament to commercial imperfection and personal vice.
Roger Ailes’ death has garnered the sympathy of presidents – George H. W. Bush Tweeted his condolences – and obituaries across the United States’ print and news media.
Yet even in death, he has been unable to take rest from the same controversies he sparked as Fox’s CEO, and from the scandals which arose of his personal transgressions and sexist outlooks.
Nevertheless, he found for himself an influential voice and rose to head an influential company.
Roger Ailes was an exceptionally flawed man – perhaps a resoundingly bad one – but he did not leave life without having first left a long-lasting mark on the society he sought to amend.