Roger Ailes, the US media mogul who co-founded Fox News and helped redraw conservative American politics, died Thursday less than a year after he was forced out by a sexual harassment scandal. He was 77.
Ailes died of complications from bleeding on the brain following a fall at home in which he hit his head, the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner said.
“Hemophilia contributed to his death and his manner of death was accidental,” the medical examiner said in a statement.
A longtime confidant of media titan Rupert Murdoch, Ailes was a central figure in conservative US politics for decades.
His five-decade career ended in a blaze of sexual harassment allegations and lawsuit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlon, which forced him to stand down in July last year. Ailes denied all the allegations.
Donald Trump at the time leapt to his defense, saying that Ailes had been a friend of his for a “long time.” Ailes reportedly helped coach the now president for last year’s election campaign debates.
His wife Elizabeth announced his death in a short statement read out on Fox News by emotional news anchors.
Ailes, she said, “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.”
– Huge role –
Murdoch led tributes to the late Fox News chairman.
“Roger played a huge role in shaping America’s media over the last 30 years,” said the 86-year-old in a statement. “Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have,” he said.
“Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”
Ailes long commanded one of the pillars of Murdoch’s media empire, and a unit of the Murdoch-led conglomerate 21st Century Fox.
Under Ailes’ leadership, Fox became America’s most watched cable news channel, home to key conservative political commentators and drawing an audience distinct from rivals CNN and MSNBC.
“He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape, single-handedly for the better,” Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted.
Ailes’ career at Fox News came to a crashing halt after he was targeted in a sexual harassment suit by Carlson, a popular host and former Miss America, who claimed she was sacked for refusing his advances.
The lawsuit opened the gates to a flood of allegations from women, including star host Megyn Kelly, who accused him of groping them or making unwanted advances — and sought to expose what they called a culture of misogyny at the network.
– ‘Dark Genius’ –
Ailes reportedly received $40 million on his departure.
By the time he stood down, Ailes had become a central figure in the US political landscape — both revered by fellow conservatives, and vilified by the left.
The 2008 biography, “Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Legendary Political Operative and Fox News Founder Roger Ailes,” called Ailes “the dominant media figure of our time,” who “radically altered our political and communications landscape.”
Before founding Fox, Ailes advised Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“He really did as much as anyone to redefine the Republican Party as a party of cultural populism … making resentment of the media, resentment of elites, resentment of liberals who were soft on crime and soft on national security central to what the Republican Party was about,” David Greenberg, a Rutgers University political scientist, told AFP.
Critics have long accused Ailes and Fox of stretching the meaning of the network’s motto, “fair and balanced.”
David Brock, the founder of the left-leaning media watchdog, delivered a broadside assault in a 2012 book, “The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.”
Fox had been the source of “politically motivated misinformation,” wrote Brock and co-authors, accusing it of “brazenly broadcasting demonstrable lies and distortions, always with a conservative spin.”