Ailes’ baby Fox News, which he founded with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1996, fundamentally reshaped conservative politics, radically changed the media landscape and inarguably fertilized the dirty muck out of which grew President Donald Trump.
“The impact of Roger Ailes on American politics and media was indisputable,” said CNN commentator David Axelrod, a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, on Twitter Thursday morning, when news of the former Fox CEO’s death at the age of 77 became public.
Others were more blunt: “American politics would have been infinitely better off had Roger Ailes gone to barber college,” blogger Charles Pierce tweeted.
It’s not just that Fox News and Ailes gave Trump a platform to spout his relentless birther conspiracy about Obama. Or that Ailes, who helped craft former President Richard Nixon’s anger-stoked presidential campaign, informally advised Trump during his run for president. He also helped put former President George H.W. Bush in office in part with a racially charged campaign.
The real driver that created Trump the politician was the network’s decades-long campaign to discredit the “biased liberal media” and its constant handwringing over “political correctness.” In Fox-land there’s almost nothing worse than PC culture, essentially the idea that white men can no longer say whatever offensive thing is on their mind. Trump’s relentless need to attack and offend his perceived enemies perfectly embodies that worldview.
The network radically reshaped the Republican Party, away from its intellectual roots into more of the party of the everyman that decried academic thought or so-called elite concerns (like the environment) and was best embodied by men like Bill O’Reilly, whose most recent book, “Old School,” celebrates what he calls “traditional Americans,” and rails against “sensitive snowflakes.”
Fox relentlessly told its viewers that mainstream outlets are biased, while its take on the news was “fair and balanced,” priming the Trump voter to believe his spin on the horrible media.
Ailes famously called CNN the Clinton News Network and CBS the Communist Broadcasting system. Trump found other words with which to slam the mainstream media. Fox segments also made sure to stoke hatred for Muslims, portraying them as terrorists and black people, as scary inner-city criminals.
And, of course, Fox kept alive the notion that women are mainly beautiful objects best clad in skirts ― Ailes prohibited female anchors from wearing pants ― and endlessly deferential to men.
The last notion helped bring about Ailes’ demise at the network, he was forced out of the network he built last summer after many women accused him of horrifying sexual misbehavior. There are still harassment suits filed by Fox News employees pending against Ailes.
Trump was one of Ailes’ biggest ― and only ― defenders at the time the scandal broke last year. And though Ailes is gone, his network is still returning that favor.
Fox continues to support the president. It hasn’t even bothered to cover the current scandal now rocking the White House, HuffPost’s Michael Calderone reports. Pro-Trump hosts instead used their time on air to discuss 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and a conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee.
Fair and balanced lives on.