(CN) – Roger Ailes died Thursday, his family announced this morning. The former Fox News chairman and CEO was 77.
“Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary, and a loyal friend to many,” Elizabeth Ailes said in a statement posted on the Drudge Report. “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.”
Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and Fox News Channel said in a statement, “Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved. Roger played a huge role in shaping America’s media over the last thirty years.”
Sean Hannity responded to word of Ailes’ death by tweeting, “Today America lost one of its great patriotic warriors.”
In a series of tweets that followed, Hannity said “For decades, Roger has impacted American politics and media. He has dramatically and forever changed the political and media landscape singlehandedly for the better. Neither will every be the same again as he was a true American original.”
Ailes’ career, which began in earnest when he became a media consultant to former President Richard Nixon, ended in disgrace in July 2016 after 10 women accused him sexual harassment and of turning a blind eye to the sexual harassment of women by other high-profile members of his staff.
The tide turned this past July with the filing of a lawsuit by former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, who charged that Ailes fired her and “sabotaged her career” because she complained about workplace harassment and refused his sexual advances.
Ailes, a resident of Cresskill, New Jersey, blasted the lawsuit as retaliatory.
He said Fox did not renew Carlson’s contract simply because “her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.”
Though Ailes called the lawsuit defamatory and offensive, Carlson’s case opened the floodgates for a series of sexual-harassment allegations against Ailes and his network.
In the wake of Carlson’s lawsuit, New York magazine dredged up more allegations involving Ailes and the channel’s biggest female star, Megyn Kelly, going back to the mid-2000s, when she was just a reporter at the network.
After Ailes was shown the door at the cable news network he founded, the network’s corporate parent tried to put a positive spin on Ailes’ legacy.
“Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country,” Murdoch said in a statement after Ailes’ ousting was announced. “Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years.”
Ailes’ departure did little, however, to ebb the tide of sexual-harassment scandals at Fox News. The network fired its biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, last month amid reports that its efforts to hush up sex scandals involving the “The O’Reilly Factor” host had cost it $13 million in settlements.
And women continue to come forward and to file lawsuits against the company alleging they were subjected to sexual harassment and other discrimination.
Just 11 days ago Diana Falzone accused the network of taking her off the air because it no longer saw her as sexy after she wrote about her infertility.
Ailes began his television career as a property assistant at local stations in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It was in the latter city that he became a producer on the then-local “The Mike Douglas Show.”
It was working on that show in 1967 that Ailes met guest Richard Nixon, who was then planning his next run for the presidency. The backstage conversation grew animated as Nixon, who still felt burned by television’s role in his loss to Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1960, said he felt it a shame candidates had to rely on a gimmick — television — to get elected in modern politics.
Ailes vehemently disagreed with Nixon’s dismissal of the medium.
“If you reject television you will lose again,” Ailes told him.
The young man’s willingness to argue his position and the advice he gave Nixon resulted in a job offer.
Nixon called on Ailes to serve as his executive producer for television, and Nixon’s victory propelled Ailes into the political spotlight.
Ailes went on to be a media consultant for Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani’s first New York City mayoral campaign.
After his dismissal from Fox News in 2016, Ailes was an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign, where he assisted with debate preparation.
Roger Ailes became the founding CEO of Fox News on Oct. 7, 1996. He was named chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group on August 15, 2005.