Jim Rutenberg, May 18, 2017, New York Times [original article contains links]
Ailes image from article
The Fox News creator made a fortune creating a cultural safe space for Americans pining for the way things were.
Before Donald Trump rode the anger of forgotten (white) America to an “America First” presidency, before Breitbart News became a “platform for the altright” and before there were “alternative facts” and dueling versions of reality, Roger Ailes saw a divided country but an undivided news media. [JB emphasis] And he set out to change it.
Empowered by Rupert Murdoch, who was intent on upending the traditional news media, Mr. Ailes built a network, the Fox News Channel, that would speak to and for those Americans he said were being ignored and disrespected. They were the people who went to Friendly’s for milkshakes, flew the American flag on their car antennas and didn’t see much point in trying to “understand” America’s enemies.
His network would load its primetime slots with opinionated talk-radio-style personalities while presenting news with an approach he called “fair and balanced,” an indictment of the rest of the news media as excessively liberal. He implicitly injected the news with politics — and set Fox to the right of its rivals — even as he professed to be doing the opposite.
When Mr. Ailes was done, his network was in first place (for 15 years running), the mainstream news media was divided and weakened and Fox News was arguably a more powerful force in American politics than either the Republican or Democratic parties.
Mr. Ailes, who died on Thursday at 77, exited Fox News with his reputation in tatters. He was ousted last summer amid allegations that he preyed on women who worked for him with offers of advancement in return for sex. He denied the claims. And in the months before his death he watched his legacy become further tarnished as similar harassment allegations led to the departure of the network’s top star, Bill O’Reilly, and a federal investigation began to examine the business practices during his tenure.
He was as divisive in death as he was in life.
Tributes rolled in through conservative talk radio and his own network: “When Roger Ailes is on your team, you do not lose” (Rush Limbaugh, on his show on Thursday); “a visionary” (Laura Ingraham, in response to an email seeking comment); “a patriot” (Shepard Smith, on his show on Fox). But they clashed with the multitudes of harsh assessments: He “made this the hate-filled moronic country it is today” (Rolling Stone); “He ushered in the post-truth society” (Jeffrey P. Jones, director of the prestigious Peabody Awards).
Aside from his own personal legacy with women, Mr. Ailes had a record as a television executive who mostly pushed boundaries in one direction — to the right, and occasionally into the conspiratorial. That was especially so in the Obama years, when Fox News “gave life to stories that became memes on the right — czars in the White House; the I.R.S. story; Benghazi — that helped set the agenda for Republicans in Congress,” as the Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote to me in an email. ...