Fox News founder Roger Ailes dies 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, according to Fox News.

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

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."

The cause of death was not immediately clear.

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."

In a statement announcing Ailes' departure last year, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, praised Ailes for his "remarkable contribution" to the company and said he "shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years."

Ailes 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 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 jazzy production values and cheeky slogans like "Fair and Balanced" and "We Report, You Decide," Fox News quicly challenged what Ailes viewed as a liberal-leaning mainstream media. Ailes' formula shook the American news indsutry and changed American politics.

In recent years, he served as informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, even sitting in on debate prep for the candidate during his 2016 campaign.

In 1996, Murdoch, seeing a market for a conservative cable news outlet, hired Ailes to create Fox News. 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. 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.

The crowning achievement, 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.

USA TODAY


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