Former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is dead. His brand of right-leaning news coverage is very much alive.
That might be the simplest way to sum up Ailes's media legacy, though in his final year he also came to symbolize sexism at a network that is currently trying to open a new chapter.
The Drudge Report was first Thursday morning to break the news of Ailes's death, posting a statement from the longtime TV executive's wife, Elizabeth:
I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning. Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son, Zachary, and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise — and to give back. During a career that stretched over more than five decades, his work in entertainment, in politics, and in news affected the lives of many millions. And so even as we mourn his death, we celebrate his life.
In two decades of leadership at Fox News, Ailes built the cable news channel into the popular and polarizing media behemoth it is today. The former Republican operative created a go-to forum for conservative perspective, in addition to straight news, that resonated with viewers who see a liberal slant in the rest of the mainstream media.
In many ways, Ailes was Fox News.
He was undone last summer by a lawsuit in which former anchor Gretchen Carlson alleged sexual harassment, an action that prompted other women, including Megyn Kelly, the network's biggest female star at the time, to come forward with similar stories.
Ailes also reportedly clashed with James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons of 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, sometimes over personal matters and sometimes over political coverage.
Since Ailes's ouster in July, Fox News has split with Kelly, Van Susteren and Bill O'Reilly, who faced his own sexual harassment allegations. One of the executives who replaced Ailes, Bill Shine, lasted only eight months.
Through it all, Fox News has retained the identity Ailes forged for the network as a leading platform for conservative opinion and a counterweight to other news outlets that Fox hosts generally regard with disdain.
On “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, co-host Ainsley Earhardt choked up as she shared an emotional reflection: “Many people out there would say that he saved this country by starting the Fox News Channel. Roger gave every single one of us on this couch an opportunity. He put food on our table. And, you know, he went out in such a sad way, but who doesn’t have sins?”
At the same time, on rival MSNBC, hosts spoke highly of Ailes as a person and as a media innovator.
“Regardless of the dark sides of his character, I can tell you — and I’m sure you guys have stories — fiercely loyal,” Joe Scarborough said. “Roger Ailes was fiercely loyal and would fight for you even if you didn’t work for his company. He certainly was to Mika and me.”
“I know he’s done bad things,” added Chris Matthews. “He’s been through bad things, but he got me started in cable television back when he was running, of course, CNBC and ‘America’s Talking.’ … I think the reason he succeeded with Fox, in the beginning, is he’s the kind of guy who would watch Fox.”
“Chris and I first met Roger Ailes — I was right out of school — in 1968, in Philadelphia,” Andrea Mitchell recalled. “He was the producer of ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ in the same building where the NBC affiliate was. So, I would see him all the time, and after that is when he first hooked up with Richard Nixon and did that ’72 campaign. And he was dynamic. … He transformed American politics and American media.”