Fox News founder Roger Ailes dies aged 77

As the cable channel’s founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Ailes became one of the most influential figures in the Republican party.

Roger Ailes attends a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, California, on July 24, 2006. Fred Prouser / Reuters
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NEW YORK // Roger Ailes, who set up the Fox News network as a voice for US conservatives before he was brought down by sexual harassment charges, died on Thursday at the age of 77.

Ailes worked as a media strategist for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush before turning his media savvy to running TV networks. In early 1996 he accepted a challenge from media titan Rupert Murdoch to build a news network from scratch to compete with CNN. Fox News was launched in October that year.

As the cable channel’s founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Ailes became one of the most influential figures in the Republican party, and the network was integral to US president Donald Trump’s successful run for the White House.

From the start, Ailes had a clear conservative vision of what he wanted Fox to be as he took the network to the top of the cable news ratings and made it a major profit centre for Mr Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox media empire.

But accusations of Ailes’ treatment of women would be his downfall.

Last July, Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America who appeared on the popular Fox and Friends morning programme before being given her own show, sued him. She said he had made sexual advances toward her and then hurt her career in retaliation after she rejected him.

Two weeks later, Ailes was removed from the network with a US$40 million (Dh147m) severance package. His departure came during the Republican national convention and at a time when the network was scoring record ratings. Shortly afterward, he began advising the Trump campaign.

Ailes had run Fox News under the slogan “fair and balanced” and conservatives found it a much-needed antidote to the perceived liberal slant of traditional media. Critics denounced it as a cynical and polarising right-wing propaganda machine.

“He helped market a brand of pseudo-journalism that revolves basically around hate, rhetoric, divisiveness, pitting people against each other,” said Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog. “That seeps into the culture and into politics.”

The story of Fox News was the story of Ailes. His conservative beliefs set the narrative for the network’s stories, and critics said it was difficult to determine where Ailes’ agenda ended and Republican party talking points began. No potential Republican presidential candidate stood much of a chance without Ailes’ blessing.

"I want to elect the next president," he told Fox executives at a 2010 meeting, according to the 2014 biography The Loudest Voice in the Room by Gabriel Sherman, a writer for New York magazine.

"Ailes' power and ruthlessness ... allowed him to take over the Republican party and mould it to fit his paranoid world view," Sherman told the Washington Post in 2016.

* Associated Press and Reuters