According to a statement from his family, Roger Ailes has died at age 77. The news was first reported by the Drudge Report and then confirmed on Fox News, the network Ailes helped launch and then managed as CEO for more than 20 years. He resigned amid sexual harassment allegations in July. The cause of Ailes' death was not immediately available.
His wife, Elizabeth, released a statement Thursday morning:
I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning. 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. 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...
As his wife says, the influence Ailes had over not just media but also American politics is astounding. Fox News has the highest ratings in cable news, and the network used it to influence U.S. political discourse with a conservative slant — despite the network's slogan, "fair and balanced." Studies even show that when regions first got access to the channel in the 1990s, Republican voter turnout increased.
Ailes' decades of success came to an abrupt end after sexual harassment allegations arose last summer. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, filed a lawsuit against her former boss, which in turn began an internal investigation. Some 25 women came forward, including on-air star Megyn Kelly. Through lawyers, Ailes denied all of the allegations, but he ultimately negotiated an exit from the news channel with a generous payout of $40 million.
The decision to force Ailes' resignation came from Rupert Murdoch himself, shocking employees at the time. Nonetheless, Murdoch spoke well of the longtime executive. "Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country ... Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years," Murdoch said in July. "Fox News has given voice to those who were ignored by the traditional networks and has been one of the great commercial success stories of modern media."
In his letter of resignation, Ailes said that he did not want to be a distraction from the channel's mission by staying on in a time of controversy. He didn't speak of the allegations, but he did mention the many women he had worked with over the years:
I take particular pride in the role that I have played advancing the careers of the many women I have promoted to executive and on-air positions. Many of these talented journalists have deservedly become household names known for their intelligence and strength, whether reporting the news, fair and balanced, and offering exciting opinions on our opinion programs.