Roger Ailes

Image courtesy of Fox News

Roger Ailes Ousted as
CEO of Fox News

| published July 21, 2016 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

Roger Ailes, the conservative media operative who literally built Fox News into a major television operation and one of the highest rated news organizations in the U.S., has been forced out by members of the family of Rupert Murdoch, owners of 21st Century Fox, which includes Fox News among its various properties.

Ailes has been accused of sexual harassment by Gretchen Carlson, a former news anchor and commentator who was let go by Fox News when her most recent contract expired. Ailes, who has denied the allegations of sexual harrasment, will be replaced temporarily by Rupert Murdoch himself, though sources at Fox News and at 21st Century Fox say the arrangement will be only temporary while the company searches for a suitable replacement.

Rumors of Ailes possible exit from Fox News began to circulate a week ago, but both the company and Ailes spokespersons denied that any such departure was eminent. But as it turns out, Ailes and the brass at 21st Century Fox were negotiating the specific terms of his departure, as well as securing legal counsel to defend the network from a deeper potential legal quagmire.

Ailes, who can trace his work in media and politics back to the 1960s, has been a solid fixture of Republican strategic thinking and a master of media spin for more than a generation. While working as an associate producer for the Mike Douglas Show in 1967, Ailes happened to engage in a philosophical long conversation about the power of television with the former vice-President Richard Nixon, who was waiting in the green room to appear on the show.

Nixon, skeptical and wary of TV, was convinced the media form was a fleeting, temporal, electronic fad—something that would never usurp the influence of newspapers or radio. Nixon suggested that TV was a land of cartoons and silly sitcoms, and little more. Ailes strongly challenged this view, and assured Nixon that television would prove to be the pivotal element in politics, and, in fact, that the intersection of politics and television would eventually prove to be the center of voter decision-making. Months later, Nixon would ask Ailes to join his staff as a media consultant.

Ailes never looked back, and could count among his roles key positions close to several Republican Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush—both of whom Ailes worked for during their successful political campaigns for the White House. Ailes also managed media for Rudy Giuliani’s first mayoral campaign in New York City.

In 1996, Ailes developed the concept of Fox News, and—working with Murdoch—became its founder and first CEO. Ailes is credited with creating the first large-scale, professional news organization with a decidedly rightward tilt—in opposition, conservatives would argue, to the majority of mainstream media organizations which are liberal, center-left, or centrist in their viewpoints and editorial criteria. Ailes is also credited with the extensive glitzing and glitterization of television news, including moving graphics, colorful eye-catching layouts, vastly more expensive set designs, and a more sensationalistic approach to news and political news gathering.

His departure from Fox News comes as an ironic—and some of his harshest critics might say poetic—time in American politics, as Donald Trump, a former TV reality show host and hotel and casino owner, becomes the Republican Party’s nominee. Trump, it could be argued, is the ultimate creature of the form of political television envisioned and promulgated by Ailes, and Trump will take the stage in Cleveland during the same week that Ailes will be exiting from his role as chairman and CEO of Fox News, a network made fabulously wealthy through a vision which Ailes nearly alone saw as far back as the late 1960s.

Carlson’s allegations against Ailes may prove to be costly for Fox News, which has retained legal counsel and already begun preparing its defense. Carlson accuses Ailes of demanding sexual favors in exchange for a promotion and a more senior role within the news organization, a charge which Ailes strongly denies. But adding to the problems have been this week’s revelations that anchor and moderator Megyn Kelly has made similar charges against Ailes, a move which may have proven to have been the catalyst for News Corporation’s decision to push Ailes out quickly.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Of Showmanship & The News; book review by Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 17, 2014.

Republicans Nominate Trump Amidst Controversy; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; July 20, 2016.