Roger E. Ailes, a major force in the convergence of extremist conservativism into the Republican Party over the past five decade has finally died today at age 77. He leaves behind a dark legacy that will continue to plague politics, television news coverage, the role of media in America and the presidency of Donald Trump.
As the combative, unstoppable founder (in 1996) and longtime CEO of Fox News, Ailes changed the face of TV news, how we view public affairs, government and the role of politicians – until his tenure abruptly ended last summer after decades of serial sexual harassment and mistreatment of minority employees who toiled under the iron fist of his secretive, paranoid regime.
Under Ailes, Fox News became dominant in cable TV news ratings for most of the 21st century, serving toxic propaganda to over two million viewers daily, most of whom were angry older white males upset by the demographic, economic and cultural changes rocking America.
Ailes knew just how to cultivate the worst impulses of his angry, unhappy, and racist viewers and how to get them riled up and make them incredibly loyal to his conservative brand of politics and television.
At Fox, he created the catch phrase “Fair and Balanced” to describe his programming, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. He determined every aspect of the network’s operations from the choice of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity – who reflected their boss’s aggressive attitude – to a mandate that all of the female anchors had to wear skirts, not pants, and the shorter the better.
His network was the place to hear endless reasons why Bill and Hillary Clintons were immoral, to propagate baseless conspiracy theories about how President Obama wasn’t really born in America and why Muslims couldn’t be trusted, how Obamacare would result in the creation of death panels and why Christians were being persecuted.
Under Ailes, every story got a conservative – and often factually baseless – spin that was repeated over and over and supported by a string of specialist and guests. Those who didn’t comply with his mandate didn’t get air time, and other media who didn’t agree were effectively frozen out.
Roger Ailes cultivated a culture of sexual predation and rampant misogyny at his network while his anchors preached Christian morality. “Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” revealed former host Andrea Tantaros in her lawsuit.
His network was also known for its rampant racism in both coverage and behind the scenes. Eleven employees have just filed a class-action lawsuit alleging “abhorrent, intolerable, unlawful and hostile racial discrimination” by the company.
Despite his huge success for Fox, Murdoch finally had to push Ailes out after a former anchor, Gretchen Carlson, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, which then attracted more suits and stories of harassment by over a dozen former employees.
While Ailes was gone, the lawsuits have continued again him and more recently against O’Reilly, who was forced off the network last month after a host of sexual harrassment and assault allegations prompted advertisers to pull out of his show.
However, Ailes longtime health issues were catching up with him. From childhood, he had been a hemophiliac. His death came a week after he had a fall at his home in Florida, from which he never recovered.
Ailes death complicates the many lawsuits still in the courts and an investigation by the U.S. Attorney in New York into whether he made illegal payments to settle harassment claims that were not properly recorded by the parent company. The investigation has also gotten into the methods Ailes allegedly used to harass the women who complained, as he had so many others over the years.
“Ailes passing means he will not be able to directly address any allegations,” reports Variety. “It’s not clear if he had been interviewed by federal investigators as part of the probe. Legal experts said that will put more pressure on Fox representatives to challenge witnesses through cross-examination and the discovery process.”