Roger Ailes, former Fox News chairman, dead at 77

Roger Ailes, the bombastic and controversial founder and CEO of Fox News ousted last year in a sexual harassment scandal, has died.

Ailes, who reshaped television news over five decades in the TV and entertainment industry, was 77. His death was announced in a statement by his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, to The Drudge Report.

"I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning," she said in the statement. She called him "a loving husband" and "patriot."

Ailes, who recently purchased a $36 million mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., apparently hit his head after falling in the bathroom of the residence on May 10, according to a Palm Beach police event report.

The unidentified 911 caller told the dispatcher at 1:49 p.m. that the victim, identified only as a 77-year-old male, suffered "serious bleeding” and that the fall was "accidental." The report quotes the caller as saying that the victim was suffering "serious bleeding" and "is not completely alert."

Few other details were immediately available, including whether the victim was taken to the hospital.

News of Ailes' death prompted widespread expressions of shock and grief from numerous political, entertainment and media figures.

Former President George H. W. Bush tweeted: "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."

Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman for 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, called Ailes a "great patriot" and said everyone at the news channel is "shocked and grieved" by his death.

"A brilliant broadcaster, Roger played a huge role in shaping America’s media over the last thirty years," Murdoch said in a statement. "He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted."

In a series of messages, Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted tributes to his onetime boss, saying he was "like a second father."

"Today, America lost one of its great patriotic warriors," Hannity said on Twitter. "He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape, single-handedly for the better."

Fox anchor Bill Hemmer, looking shaken, announced Ailes' death to his audience, ending his brief report by saying, softly, "Wow!"

Ailes, who ran the network with an iron hand, resigned July 21 following a storm over a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson. The suit triggered similar claims from other women and an in-house investigation at Fox.

Ailes strongly denied the claims, but stepped down with a $40 million severance package.

Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a biography on Ailes entitled The Loudest Voice in the Room, called his "last chapter" a tragic story, "whatever you think of Roger Ailes."

"It is a tragic, sad morning," Sherman told MSNBC on Thursday. "After all he built in his career, he for all practical purposes died alone."

Ailes, an Ohio native, began his television career in the early 1960s as a producer at The Mike Douglas Show in Cleveland, and went onto serve as media consultant for several Republican presidents, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

In 1970, as an aide to Nixon, he drew up a 300-page memo titled, "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News" that spelled out how to harness a conservative media viewpoint on behalf of the party. While the idea was never taken up by the Republican president, it was the germination of a concept that eventually turned into the Fox News channel, a conservative powerhouse that debuted on Oct. 7, 1996.

With high-tech production values and cheeky slogans like "Fair and Balanced" and "We Report, You Decide," Fox News quickly challenged what Ailes viewed as a liberal-leaning mainstream media.

The formula shook the American news industry and changed American politics. The network eventually unseated CNN as the highest-rated cable news network and became one of the most popular cable networks of all genres, reaching more than 90 million households.

Ailes molded the network to run like a political campaign operation, with primetime shows that were unabashedly conservative and hosts who openly espoused Republican talking points. He made Fox News a comfortable venue for Republican figures, offering up a soft, on-air landing place for out-of-office politicians like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum.

In the 2016 presidential race, Ailes parlayed his friendship with Donald Trump into a role as informal adviser for the presidential hopeful, even sitting in on debate prep for the candidate in his face-offs with Hillary Clinton.

His crowning achievement at Fox News, however, was sullied in his final months by the charges of sexual misconduct. Twenty-First Century Fox noted in a recent quarterly report that it paid $45 million in settlements related to sexual harassment allegations against Ailes.

Carlson alleged at least six conditions in which Ailes referred to her body, intimidated her or used demeaning language. At least a half-dozen other women, including former Fox News star Megyn Kelly, came forward to accuse Ailes, who denied wrongdoing.

A miniseries about Ailes, titled Secure and Hold: The Last Days of Roger Ailes, was already in the works at Showtime, based in part of Sherman's book.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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