Roger Eugene Ailes (May 15, 1940 – May 18, 2017) was an American television executive and media consultant.
Ailes was the founder and former Chairman and CEO of Fox News and the Fox Television Stations Group, from which he resigned in July 2016 following allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani's first mayoral campaign. In 2016, he was an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign, where he assisted with debate preparation.
Ailes was born and grew up in the factory town of Warren, Ohio, the son of Donna Marie (née Cunningham) and Robert Eugene Ailes, a factory maintenance foreman. Ailes suffered from hemophilia and was often hospitalized as a youth. He attended the Warren city schools, and later was inducted into Warren High School's Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. His father was abusive, and his parents divorced in 1960.
In 1962, Ailes graduated from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he majored in radio and television and served as the student station manager for WOUB for two years.
Ailes' career in television began in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where he started as Property Assistant (1962), Producer (1965), and Executive Producer (1967–68) for KYW-TV, for a then-locally produced talk-variety show, The Mike Douglas Show. He continued as Executive Producer for the show when it was syndicated nationally, and in 1968 was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for it.
In 1967, Ailes had a spirited discussion about television in politics with one of the show's guests, Richard Nixon, who took the view that television was a gimmick. Later, Nixon called on Ailes to serve as his Executive Producer for television. Nixon's successful presidential campaign was Ailes's first venture into the political spotlight. His pioneering work in framing national campaign issues and making the stiff Nixon more likable and accessible to voters was later chronicled in The Selling of the President 1968 by Joe McGinniss.Political consulting
In 1984, Ailes worked on the campaign to reelect Ronald Reagan. In 1987 and 1988, Ailes was credited (along with Lee Atwater) with guiding George H. W. Bush to victory in the Republican primaries and the later come-from-behind[victory over Michael Dukakis.
Ailes scripted and (with Sig Rogich) produced the "Revolving Door" ad, as well as all of Bush's broadcast spots in the primary and general-election campaigns. Ailes's TV ads for the 1988 Bush campaign were extensively examined in the award-winning documentary film Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.
Ailes was credited with the "Orchestra Pit Theory" regarding sensationalist political coverage in the news media, which originated with his quip:
"If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, 'I have a solution to the Middle East problem,' and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?"
Ailes's last campaign was the unsuccessful effort of Richard Thornburgh for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania in November 1991. He announced his withdrawal from political consulting in 1991. Although he aided with behind-the-scenes speechwriting and coaching in 1992 for both President and Barbara Bush at the GOP Convention in Houston, Ailes did not work on the unsuccessful 1992 Bush re-election campaign against Bill Clinton.
Days after the 9/11 attacks, Ailes advised President George W. Bush that the American public would be patient as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible. The correspondence was revealed in Bob Woodward's book Bush at War. Ailes lashed out against Woodward, saying "Woodward got it all screwed up, as usual", and "The reason he's not as rich as Tom Clancy is that while he and Clancy both make stuff up, Clancy does his research first." Ailes refused to release a copy of the memo he sent to Bush.
Ailes's career inspired novelist Jeff Gillenkirk to compose the novel Pursuit of Darkness, about a ruthless Republican operative who has dominated American politics for nearly 200 years—as a vampire. National Public Radio's Margot Adler called Pursuit of Darkness "a gripping page-turner ... the best of the lot. There are games beyond games in this book—real insights into the political machinations of Washington and the clueless nature of even the best media."Book
In 1988, Ailes wrote a book with long-time aide Jon Kraushar, called You Are the Message: Secrets of the Master Communicators, in which he discussed some of his philosophies and strategies for successful performance in the public eye.President of CNBC and America Talking channel
Ailes eventually made his way back to television, this time focusing on cable news. In 1993, he became president of CNBC and later created the "America's Talking" channel, which would eventually become MSNBC.Fox
Ailes was tapped by Rupert Murdoch in 1996 to become the founding CEO of Fox News, effective on October 7.
After the departure of Lachlan Murdoch from News Corporation, Ailes was named Chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group on August 15, 2005. Following his newest assignment, one of his first acts was canceling A Current Affair in September 2005 and replacing it with a new Geraldo Rivera show, Geraldo at Large, which debuted on Halloween, 2005. Rivera's show drew about the same ratings as A Current Affair in January 2007. Ailes decided to cancel Geraldo at Large, reportedly to move Rivera back on Fox News Channel.
Ailes hired former CBS executive Dennis Swanson in October 2005 to be president of the Fox Television Stations Group. Additionally, there were changes in affiliates' news programs with the standardization of Fox News Channel-like graphics, redesigned studios, news-format changes, and the announcement of a new morning television show called The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet to be produced by Fox News Channel.
In October 2012, his contract with the network was renewed for four years, through 2016. If completed, he would have served as head of Fox News Channel for 20 years. Salary terms were not made public, although his earnings for the 2012 fiscal year were a reported $21 million inclusive of bonuses. In addition to heading Fox News and chairing Fox Television Stations, Ailes also chaired 20th Television, MyNetworkTV and Fox Business Network.Sexual harassment allegations and resignation
In a book published in 2014, Gabriel Sherman alleged that, in the 1980s, Ailes offered a television producer a raise if she would sleep with him. Fox News denied the allegation and rejected the authenticity of Sherman's book.
On July 6, 2016, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. Carlson alleged that she had been fired for rebuffing Ailes' advances. Ailes, through his attorney, Susan Estrich, denied the charges. Three days later, Gabriel Sherman reported accounts from six women (two publicly and four anonymously) who alleged sexual harassment by Ailes. In response, Ailes' counsel released a statement: "It has become obvious that Ms. Carlson and her lawyer are desperately attempting to litigate this in the press because they have no legal case to argue. The latest allegations, all 30 to 50 years old, are false."
Ten days later, New York magazine reported that an internal review into Carlson's claims had expanded into a broader review of Ailes' stewardship. It also claimed Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, had seen enough information in the preliminary review to conclude that Ailes had to go. They disagreed on the timing, however; James wanted Ailes out immediately, while Rupert and Lachlan wanted to wait until after the Republican National Convention. On July 19, New York reported that Megyn Kelly told investigators Ailes made "unwanted sexual advances toward her" at the start of her career. The magazine also reported that the Murdochs had given Ailes an ultimatum—resign by August 1 or be fired.
On July 21, Ailes resigned from Fox News, receiving $40 million from Fox in an exit agreement. Rupert Murdoch succeeded him as chairman, and as interim CEO until the naming of a permanent replacement. In a letter to Murdoch Ailes said, "I will not allow my presence to become a distraction from the work that must be done every day to ensure that Fox News and Fox Business continue to lead our industry." Ailes was thanked for his work, without mention of the allegations. He was to continue to advise Murdoch and 21st Century Fox through 2018.
Following Ailes' resignation, Andrea Tantaros claimed in August 2016 that she approached Fox News executives about Ailes' behavior towards her in 2015. She stated that her allegations resulted first in her being demoted, and then in her being taken off the air in April 2016. Tantaros filed a lawsuit against Fox News in August 2016 for sexual harassment, also accusing Bill O'Reilly and Scott Brown.
On August 8, 2016, Shelly Ross, writing for The Daily Beast, described her encounter of sexual harassment with Ailes in 1981. She claimed that at a lunch meeting Ailes asked her, "When did you first discover you were sexy?" When Ross explained to Ailes that she found the conversation "very embarrassing," he responded that "the best expression of loyalty comes in the form of a sexual alliance." The next month, 21st Century Fox announced it had settled a lawsuit with Carlson over her allegations of harassment against Ailes. Fox was also reported to have made separate settlements with at least two other women who made complaints about Ailes.
In November 2016, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly wrote in her book about the details of her sexual abuse allegations against Ailes. According to Kelly, when she first joined Fox News, Ailes would have meetings with her, during which he would make sexual remarks. He also tried to kiss her several times during a closed-door meeting, but she was able to get away and leave the office. After that incident in 2006, Kelly says that Ailes did not sexually harass her again. Then, in 2016, when Gretchen Carlson first made her sexual abuse allegations, Fox pressured Kelly to defend Ailes, which she refused to do.
Ailes was married three times; his first two marriages ended in divorce.
He married Elizabeth Tilson (born 1960) on February 14, 1998. Formerly a television executive, she was the owner and publisher of local New York state newspapers The Putnam County News & Recorder and The Putnam County Courier. He had one son with Elizabeth named Zachary. The family resided in Garrison, New York, on a hilltop parcel in a home constructed of Adirondack river stone across the Hudson River from United States Military Academy at West Point.
Ailes was a longtime friend of journalist and media personality Barbara Walters.
Ailes also had residences in Cresskill, New Jersey and Palm Beach, Florida.
Ailes died May 18, 2017, in Palm Beach, Florida, after falling and hitting his head at his home the previous week. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner attributed this to a subdural hematoma, aggravated by hemophilia. His wife, Elizabeth, announced his death in a statement on the Drudge Report: "I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning".
In a 2013 book excerpt from Roger Ailes: Off Camera, Ailes spoke about facing death, saying, "Because of my hemophilia, I've been prepared to face death all of my life. When it comes, I'll be fine, calm. I'll miss life, though. Especially my family."
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