Roger Eugene Ailes (May 15, 1940 – May 18, 2017) was an American television executive and media consultant. He was the founder and one-time 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, after he left Fox News, he became an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign, where he assisted with debate preparation.
Ailes’ career in television began in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where he started as Production Assistant (1961), 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 1967 and 1968 he won Emmy Awards 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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