NEW YORK — Roger Ailes, who transformed cable news and then American politics by building Fox News into a ratings powerhouse, died Thursday. He was 77.
The death was announced by his family and reported on Fox News Channel. There was no immediate information on a cause of death.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning,” his wife, Elizabeth, said in a statement. “Roger 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.”
Ailes started Fox News almost from scratch in 1996 and built it into not just a cable news ratings leader but a profound influence on the right wing of American politics.
He was arguably the most powerful man in media when he suddenly lost his job last summer. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, sued him for sexual harassment, and other women came forward to support her claims. Carlson settled with 21st Century Fox, the network’s parent company, for $20 million.
Carlson said there had been at least six instances when Ailes talked about her body, intimidated her or used demeaning language. At least six other women, including former Fox News star Megyn Kelly, came forward to accuse Ailes, who denied wrongdoing.
His departure was only the beginning of a troubled period for the network. Bill O’Reilly, its pugnacious prime time star, was forced out in April after The New York Times reported that Fox News had paid $13 million to settle claims from five women of inappropriate behavior.
All told, Fox and its parent company have paid $45 million in settlements related to sexual harassment scandals.
Long before Fox News, Ailes was a Republican operative who saw long before most what television could do for the party.
As an aide to President Richard Nixon in 1970, he prepared a 300-page memo titled, “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.”
“Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication,” the memo read. “The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit — watch — listen. The thinking is done for you.”