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Roger Ailes, former Fox boss in sex scandal, dies at 77

Friday, May 19, 2017

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NEW YORK, USA (AP) — Roger Ailes, the communication maestro who transformed TV news by creating Fox News Channel only to be ousted from his media empire at the height of his reign for alleged sexual harassment, died yesterday, according to his wife, Elizabeth Ailes. He was 77.A former GOP operative to candidates including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush and a one-time adviser to President Donald Trump, Ailes also created a TV network that changed the face of 24-hour news. In early 1996, he accepted a challenge from media titan Rupert Murdoch to build a news network from scratch to compete with CNN and other TV outlets they deemed left-leaning.

That October, Ailes flipped the switch on Fox News Channel, which within a few years became the audience leader in cable news. It also emerged as a powerful force on the political scene while the feisty, hard-charging Ailes swatted off criticism that the network he branded as “Fair and Balanced” had a conservative tilt, declaring he had left the political world behind.

By mid-2016 Ailes still ruled supreme as he prepared to celebrate Fox News' 20th anniversary.

But in little more than two weeks, both his legacy and job unravelled following allegations by a former anchor that he had forced her out of Fox News after she spurned his sexual advances. The lawsuit filed on July 6 by Gretchen Carlson quickly triggered accounts from more than 20 women with similar stories of alleged harassment by Ailes either against themselves or someone they knew.

Reportedly, a key witness was Megyn Kelly, the network's superstar personality, whose voice was conspicuously missing in the chorus of women and men at Fox News who spoke up on behalf of Ailes. Their defence did little to staunch the widening scandal. Despite Ailes' staunch denials, 21st Century Fox corporate head Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, determined that Ailes had to go. The announcement was made on July 21.

Rumours of sexual improprieties at Fox News and by Ailes in particular weren't new. Gabriel Sherman's 2014 Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room, reported numerous unflattering anecdotes, including an allegation (denied by Ailes) that he offered one female employee extra money if she would have sex with him.

Before Carlson's bombshell legal action, Fox's roaring success and enormous earnings (with some estimates that it accounted for nearly a quarter of the parent company's profits) insulated Ailes from any suspicion as well as from his past scrapes with the Murdoch sons over whom he would report to.

His dismissal was a headspinning downfall and a breathtaking defeat for Ailes, a man who all his life seemed to be spoiling for a fight and was used to winning them.

Ailes was a brawler. And even when he was on the winning side of a battle, he positioned himself as the defiant outsider going toe-to-toe with his bullying nemeses. Brash, heavyset and bombastic, he was renowned for never giving in, for being ever confrontational with a chip on his shoulder and a blistering outburst at the ready.

When he founded Fox News Network, Ailes' stated mission was to correct for the sins of a media universe that was overwhelmingly liberal. Pledging fairness from his employees shortly before the network launched, he was typically tough talking: “Will they hit it every time? Hell, no. Will they try? Hell, yes. Will we be criticised? Hell, yes. Do I care? Hell, no.”

As usual, he had defined the enemy (in this case, his media critics and other presumed foes) before they could define themselves. It was his crowning principle.

This attack-dog style served him well when, at 27, Ailes wangled a job with Nixon, then vying for a political comeback in the 1968 presidential race.

“Mr Nixon, you need a media adviser,” Ailes declared (according to Sherman's biography).

“What's a media adviser?” asked Nixon.

“I am,” replied Ailes, having fashioned the job on the spot.

Nixon, whose run for the White House had been dealt a blow eight years earlier in a televised debate against his camera-ready rival John F Kennedy, was a challenge Ailes eagerly accepted at a moment when, as he realised better than most, TV could make or break a candidate. Concluding that viewers would never warm to Nixon, nor would the media establishment, Ailes struck a winning formula by packaging him in comfortably staged TV town-hall meetings as a man whose intelligence the audience would respect.

The remainder of Ailes' career would draw on various blends of showmanship, ruthless politics and an unmatched skill for recognising TV's raw communication power before his opponents did, and harnessing it better.

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