Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News who left the network amid sexual harassment allegations, has died at the age of 77.
Ailes was a monumentally important figure in the world of television broadcasting, creating the Fox News empire and in some ways helping to set the stage for President Donald Trump. But he also actually did work in politics for a number of years before getting into television, and in 2016, he was an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Here’s what you need to know about the political career of Roger Ailes.
1. He Was an Adviser to Richard Nixon’s Presidential Campaign
In 1968, Roger Ailes was an adviser to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.
According to The New York Times, Ailes helped with “softening the candidate’s hard-edge, unapproachable image.”
When Richard Nixon was elected, Ailes continued to serve as an adviser, and at this time, Ailes saw the importance of getting pro-Nixon stories on television in order to influence people’s opinions.
According to The Washington Post, in the Nixon Library is a memo titled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News,” in which Ailes says, “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 reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.”
Ailes had reportedly talked to Nixon about television before, even though Nixon had felt that TV is just a gimmick.
“‘It’s a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected,’ Mr. Nixon is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Ailes,” according to The Washington Post. “‘Television is not a gimmick, and if you think it is, you’ll lose again,’ Mr. Ailes is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Nixon. And there the modern conservative movement — not the ideological entity but the telegenic one — was born.”
2. He Advised Ronald Reagan & George H.W. Bush
Roger Ailes subsequently worked on the 1984 re-election campaign of President Ronald Reagan.
According to NPR, Ailes joined the campaign shortly after Reagan’s poor performance in the first presidential debate against Walter Mondale.
After Ailes joined, though, Reagan delivered a memorable performance during the second presidential debate, which has become known for Reagan’s zinger making reference to his old age.
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan said. “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
After Ronald Reagan, Ailes also served as media adviser for George H.W. Bush in his 1988 campaign.
According to Politico, Ailes also served as an unofficial strategist, and he helped bring a fighting spirit to Bush’s campaign, helping Bush come back after being unsuccessful in the Iowa caucus.
Not only did Ailes advise Bush during the campaign, but he also remained an adviser during the Bush administration, especially helping Bush refine his message heading into the Gulf War.
3. He Developed Many Influential Campaign Commercials
Roger Ailes helped create many of the most famous television advertisements of all time, fully recognizing the power of this medium.
The most famous ad Ailes created was the “Revolving Door” ad that was a part of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign. This ad showed a series of criminals walking in and out of prison, saying that Michael Dukakis was soft on crime when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he’s done for Massachusetts,” the ad said. “America can’t afford that risk.”
In the book You Are the Message, Ailes talks about the importance of television on changing the way people think.
“Whether you’re a lawyer presenting a case to a jury or a businessperson making a presentation of some kind, the techniques of television apply to what you’re doing, in terms of brevity, quick cut, pacing, visual reinforcements, and colorful language,” Ailes said. “We’re in a headline society now and we need to realize this, whether we think it’s a good thing or not.”
4. He Informally Advised President George W. Bush
Roger Ailes officially resigned as a political adviser in 1992. However, Ailes continued to do some informal advising after that, frequently speaking with President George W. Bush.
“The senior-level editorial people believe that Roger was on the phone every day with Bush,” an anonymous source close to Fox News told Rolling Stone. “He gave Bush the same kind of pointers he used to give George H.W. Bush – delivery, effectiveness, political coaching.”
And after 9/11, Ailes sent a memo to President Bush advising him to step up the War or Terror. This was reported by Bob Woodward in the book Bush at War, released in 2002. Ailes subsequently confirmed the legitimacy of the memo.
“Mr. Woodward characterized [the memo] ‘an important-looking confidential communication’ in which Mr. Ailes was offering a ‘back-channel message’ to the president: that the president needed to convince the American public that he was taking ‘the harshest measures possible’ or else the public would not remain patient with the administration,” The New York Times reported in 2002.
5. He Was an Adviser to Donald Trump
More recently, Roger Ailes was an adviser to the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
It was first reported that Ailes was advising Trump in 2016, when The New York Times revealed that he was helping Trump prepare for the upcoming debates against Hillary Clinton.
“Mr. Ailes is aiding the Republican nominee as Mr. Trump turns his attention to the first debate with Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University on Long Island, according to four people briefed on the move, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter,” The New York Times reported.
Trump told The New York Times that this was an informal role.
“I’ll speak with Roger, but this is not a formal thing,” Trump told The New York Times. “I don’t have a debate coach. I’ve never had a debate coach.”
The Trump campaign was criticized for having Ailes on as an adviser, as this was after Ailes resigned from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations.
In October 2016, Vanity Fair reported that Roger Ailes and Donald Trump were no longer speaking.
“Ailes’s camp said Ailes learned that Trump couldn’t focus—surprise, surprise—and that advising him was a waste of time,” reporter Gabriel Sherman told Vanity Fair. “These debate prep sessions weren’t going anywhere.”
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