Ailes, who died Thursday at the age of 77, left Fox News under a cloud. But his dominance over politics and the media will loom long into Trumps presidency
When Roger Ailes resigned from Fox News in July 2016 amid allegations of sexual harassment, he left behind a TV network in turmoil at the height of the US presidential election. But there was no greater validation of Foxs influence, under Ailes tutelage, than the victory of Donald Trump that November.
Ailes, who died on Thursday at the age of 77, became an elusive figure in his final months, roiled by his forced departure from Fox after he was accused of sexually harassing female employees. But his dominance over the political landscape has loomed large throughout Trumps presidency so far, distinctive in its all-out war against the mainstream media and the prominence given to ideologues from the far right.
And Trumps improbable journey from Manhattan mogul to the Oval Office, media observers say, was made uniquely possibly by the network Ailes transformed over two decades into Americas most-watched cable news channel.
Its hard to really overestimate the influence he had on the media and the political landscape, said Betsy West, a professor at Columbia Universitys Graduate School of Journalism, who was formerly the senior vice-president at CBS News and an executive producer at ABC News.
In many ways, its a straight line to our very polarized news landscape today, where people on either ends of the political spectrum cant agree on basic facts.
The resulting conditions laid the groundwork for Trump, who, much like Ailes, challenged the institutions and establishment that had long ruled over Washington.
It was no accident that Trump was handed a microphone by Ailes, who boosted his candidacy by allowing him to phone in weekly to the morning program Fox & Friends. Once Trump secured the Republican nomination, his most frequent appearances were made within the comfort zone of the shows of Bill OReilly and Sean Hannity the latter an ardent supporter of Trump and arguably the most bombastic purveyor of Ailes own scorched-earth political mentality.
For Trump, a former reality television star, to find a home on the very network that transformed political news into entertainment was almost an inevitability. It also marked the culmination of Ailes double act in politics and the media.
Roger Ailes was first and foremost a political consultant, said Kerwin Swint, a professor of politics at Kennesaw State University and author of the book Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Legendary Political Operative and Fox News Founder Roger Ailes.
He had been credited with reshaping the image of Richard Nixon through television to help stage his unlikely 1968 comeback, and went on to advise Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. And then came the idea of a network to fill what he, and, as it would turn out, millions of Americans, saw as a conservative void on cable news.
He brought to Fox News this real politically oriented, take-no-prisoners mentality to news programming, said Swing, noting Fox was the first TV network with a clear ideological bent.
He and Rupert Murdoch believed there was a whole lot of American conservatives out there who didnt really watch the news, because they thought it was liberal and they wanted something else It was an untapped market.