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Roger Ailes, Fox News Founder, Dies

May 18, 2017
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We have news this morning that Roger Ailes, the founder and CEO of Fox News formerly, has died at the age of 77. This follows a long and often controversial career in the world of media. And let's turn now to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, who has reported on and written extensively about Ailes and Fox News. David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what do we know about Ailes' death this morning?

FOLKENFLIK: He - his wife Elizabeth put out a statement interestingly enough through Matt Drudge and the Drudge Report this morning saying he had died overnight and thanking people for their support of him in recent months.

GREENE: So we don't know much about the details at this point. We do though know the impact that Roger Ailes has had on our media culture and this country. Just remind us of that. It's hard to overstate it.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he - a towering and twisty figure, influential very much in the spheres of politics and media and very much in their intersection and collision at Fox News. Let's start with the fact he came up as a TV producer, produced "The Mike Douglas Show," you know, a half century ago effectively and for a few years there and then joined up with Richard Nixon and helped propel him and become more of a media-savvy figure and campaigner. Ailes went on to work in TV, and yet still became an important figure as a media adviser to Ronald Reagan, to George H.W. Bush.

And then he brought his same kind of bare-knuckled political approach to campaigning to the television suites, hooking up after a stint at what became CNBC, hooking up with Rupert Murdoch, 1996, launching what we now know as this juggernaut of Fox News and deciding that it would be from a right-of-center take and with the idea that the rest of the media was unfairly biasing the news, unfairly slanting it against conservatives and against what he always tried to depict as real Americans. And it was a pugnacious, bombastic approach that increasingly fit the nature of its leader, Roger Ailes.

GREENE: So a celebrated figure among many conservatives, but just remind us about the headlines of the past year which were different.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, Roger Ailes really defined the culture at Fox News. And it could be fun. It could be mirthful, mischievous, we might use the word trolling at times. There were some real news mixed in there too and some real journalists in there, but he really defined what the culture was like. Behind the scenes, you know, you had sense that it was a somewhat paranoid culture. Ailes had done things like install microphones and video monitors so he could, in a sense, monitor what employees were saying and doing during the workday.

But it turned out that according to the accusations of, you know, a score of women that he had been a serial sexual harasser and that he had used his authority and his almost complete power at Fox News to essentially solicit romantic or sexual partners to see what he could get away with and when things went south to use the Fox News dollars to make the issue go away and to pay women off.

And so, you know, you've got - this is - these headlines have only really emerged in the past year, but, you know, it turns out that this was very much embedded in the DNA at Fox. And they're still trying to in some ways disentangle this - corrupt elements of Fox even as they've celebrated the incredible ratings and financial success that he's been able to propel at that network.

GREENE: All right, speaking this morning about the death of Roger Ailes at the age of 77 who created Fox News. That was NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.