Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a juggernaut, dies at 77

Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a juggernaut, dies at 77

Roger Ailes, one of the most influential media figures of recent decades, died Thursday at 77 years old, just 10 months after his stunning departure from Fox News.

As former chairman and CEO, Ailes built Fox News into a juggernaut that commanded the cable news landscape. Since 2001, the conservative news network regularly squashed its competition, oftentimes doubling and tripling rivals CNN and MSNBC on the ratings front.

Ailes resigned from Fox in July just two weeks after Gretchen Carlson, then a Fox afternoon host, accused him in a lawsuit of making unwanted sexual advances, prompting an internal investigation. 

Ailes reportedly received a $40 million payout following his departure.

The Ohio native and Ohio University graduate had reportedly been in poor health for some time. In Zev Chafets’s 2013 book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera,” he spoke of being "prepared to face death" all of his life.

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“Because of my hemophilia, I’ve been prepared to face death all of my life. As a boy I spent a lot of time in hospitals," he said. "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," he continued. "But I have a strong feeling there’s something bigger than us. I don’t think all this exists because some rocks happened to collide. I’m at peace.

"When it comes, I’ll be fine, calm. I’ll miss life, though. Especially my family.”

Ailes began his television career with “The Mike Douglas Show" in 1961 and quickly rose to executive producer of the program just six years later while still in his 20s. The show grew in popularity, nabbing Ailes Emmy nomination in 1968. 

His reputation as an outside-the-box thinking producer also caught the attention of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who took him on as a media adviser, specializing in debate prep, for his successful 1968 campaign. 

Following the campaign, Ailes founded Ailes Communications, a media consulting firm for politicians and businesses. He also produced two Broadway plays, "Mother Earth" in 1972 and "Hot-L Baltimore" in 1973, with the latter running for three years.

Ailes jumped back into presidential campaigns in 1984, this time for Ronald Reagan. 

Reagan by all counts lost his first debate with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale that fall, prompting the call to Ailes for the debate prep expertise he illustrated with Nixon. 

Reagan was seen as the easy winner in the second debate and went on to win 49 of 50 states on Election Day. Four years later, Ailes consulted for George H.W. Bush's successful campaign in 1988.  

After years of producing more television specials, including the 10-part series "Television and the Presidency," and his first book, "You Are the Message: Secrets of the Master Communicators," Ailes was named president of CNBC in 1993.

During Ailes’s time at CNBC, he planned and executed the inception of another CNBC channel, "America's Talking," which debuted in 1994. It was on this channel that Roger Ailes hosted a nightly talk show called "Straight Forward."

Ailes was courted by Rupert Murdoch in 1996 to develop and shape Fox News Channel, a move that permanently changed the landscape of news media.

Less than five years after launching, the conservative and self-proclaimed "fair and balanced" network rode the 2000 presidential election to ratings highs and began beating a once-dominant CNN, which had been in existence since 1980, to become the top-rated cable news network in the country. By 2016, Fox was so popular it beat all channels on basic cable, including ESPN, TBS and USA Network. 

Ailes showed a knack for discovering talent that were not yet big names, including Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, which made up his prime-time lineup as recently as January of this year. 

”[Fox] was able to harness the demographic power of conservative views," conservative syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said in 2011. 

"What I’ve always said about the genius of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch is that they found a niche audience: That is half the American people."