Monday, May 22, 2017

Roger Ailes, RIP

Roger Ailes (1940-2017)

Roger Ailes, Former Fox News Chief, Dies at 77

Roger Ailes, who combined political savvy with television showmanship to build the Fox News Channel into a conservative media juggernaut, but whose fabled career ended abruptly last year amid a sexual-harassment scandal, died Thursday. He was 77 years old.

Mr. Ailes, a hemophiliac who had been in failing health, was hospitalized in recent days after complications from a fall, a person familiar with the situation said.

“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning surrounded by his beautiful family,” Mr. Ailes’s wife Elizabeth said in a statement Thursday. Besides his wife, Mr. Ailes is survived by his son Zachary, brother Robert, and sister Jean.

Mr. Ailes pioneered a style of cable news with opinionated, right-leaning prime-time programming delivered by pugnacious hosts. It was an approach that delighted conservatives and proved extremely successful financially, even as it often triggered a negative response from liberal audiences.

He had an instinct for making TV news entertaining and knew how to pick and coach talent that others in the industry might overlook and develop those personalities into household names.

Through a career in politics dating back to the 1960s—advising the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and, later, Donald Trump —and his leadership of Fox News, Mr. Ailes helped shape the modern conservative movement. Currying favor with the network’s huge audience became a must for Republican politicians with national aspirations and Fox News helped fuel some of the right’s most active and influential elements, including the Tea Party.

Known for his bluntness and disdain for the so-called liberal media elites, Mr. Ailes was the perfect choice to execute media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s vision of launching a news channel that would serve as a thorn in the side of CNN and the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC.

“Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have,” Mr. Murdoch said in a statement Thursday. “He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted.”

Mr. Ailes once said that his first qualification to run a news operation was “I didn’t go to Columbia Journalism School.”

When Fox News made its debut in October of 1996, few were optimistic about its chances of success. CNN had a 16-year head start, and NBC and the deep-pocketed Microsoft Corp. were launching MSNBC.

But Fox News’s mix of news and opinionated talk targeting conservatives struck a chord with Americans who felt their views weren’t being represented sufficiently in the rest of the media. The Fox News slogans “We report, you decide” and “Fair and Balanced” were mocked by rivals but became mantras for the network’s talent and audience.

It took Fox News less than six years to surpass CNN in the ratings, but as far as Mr. Ailes was concerned, his news channel would always be the underdog.

After the triumph over CNN, rather than pat his team on the back he lectured them about complacency.

“I had to womp them and get them out of a winning mind-set,” he told The Wall Street Journal in a 2003 interview.

He also loved tweaking rivals. The marketing team at Fox News became known for its aggressive attacks against CNN and MSNBC as well as being more than willing to disparage anyone who might challenge their own credibility or write favorably about their rivals.

Mr. Ailes’s straddling of the line between politics and journalism made him a target of media watchdogs, who accused Fox News of being a megaphone for the Republican Party and coarsening the national discourse.

Mr. Ailes dismissed such criticisms, countering in the authorized biography “Roger Ailes Off Camera” that “we’re not programming to conservatives, we’re just not eliminating their point of view."

Roger Ailes With Rupert Murdoch

From The Wall Street Journal (May 18, 2017)

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