Conservative media remember Roger Ailes as 'brilliant' but flawed TV executive

Roger Ailes, the founder and former head of Fox News who died Thursday at 77, was a towering figure in the world of conservative news media -- a trailblazer who gave right-wing political voices a national platform and who groomed influential cable news stars like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

At the same time, Ailes' accomplishments were overshadowed by the sexual harassment scandals at Fox News that led to his ignominious departure from the cable channel last year.

Leaders in conservative media acknowledged Thursday his influential but flawed legacy to the world of cable news and conservative politics.

"He was a brilliant TV news executive who recognized a market that almost everyone should have recognized and capitalized on," said Roger L. Simon, co-founder of PJ Media, the conservative news site. "He recognized that half the country wasn't properly served. He struck home that way. There's no question."

But Ailes was also a "tragic figure" who was brought down by "the male libido," said Simon.

Last year, Ailes was accused by Fox News host Gretchen Carlson of sexual harassment. He denied the charges but allegations of additional misconduct continued to dog the cable news channel.

Ailes was ousted in July and received about $40 million as part of a settlement agreement. Since then, accusations of inappropriate behavior at Fox News have continued to surface, leading to the departure of O'Reilly in April from his top-rated show.

Despite the scandals, Ailes' legacy in the conservative world remains peerless, both as a TV executive and as a Republican communications honcho prior to his Fox News career, when he advised numerous conservative candidates who were seeking office, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

"He was probably the most influential strategist or media person who has ever participated in Republican politics," said Phillip Stutts, founder and chief executive of Go Big Media, a Washington-based consulting firm, and a Republican strategist.

He said Ailes is also responsible for the rise and proliferation of conservative news sites that have gained prominence in the last decade, like Breitbart, Newsmax, The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit.

"Before Ailes, it was the three major networks and CNN. He gave conservatives a place to watch conservative-leaning news stories [at Fox News] and through that, a million conservative new sites developed," said Stutts.

"So not only is he very influential in helping to elect presidents, he is responsible for the way news is consumed in a fractured way. It's staggering when you think about it."

Ailes’ TV savvy stemmed in large part from his days working on the Republican presidential campaigns of the ‘80s.

“He understood the importance of telling a story and connecting in an emotional way,” said Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based political consultant who served as deputy chief of staff for communications to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The art of campaigning on the GOP side took a leap forward during that era and a lot of it was [Ailes’] work.”

For many young people in conservative media today, Ailes remains a significant figure.

“He was one of the greats — he and Andrew Breitbart,” said Lucian Wintrich, the White House reporter for The Gateway Pundit.

“I think it's very, very unfortunate for the network, which he created out of nothing, that he was ousted from his own organization. It was an incredible mistake. But I don’t think the allegations against him will mar [his legacy] at all. He's been an inspiration to many young conservatives in media.”

Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy described Ailes as a "pathfinder" who opened up the news industry to "a diversity of viewpoints." In so doing, he also "laid the groundwork for Donald Trump's election."

After leaving Fox News last year, Ailes worked on the Trump campaign as an advisor, helping the Republican candidate prepare for the debates.

"I always believed he truly loved America," said Ruddy in an email statement.

On Thursday, a number of conservative media figures praised Ailes on social media.

Ailes "founded one of the most important and successful media outlets in American history. I will miss his friendship dearly," said Laura Ingraham, editor-in-chief of the conservative news site LifeZette and a frequent Fox News contributor, on Twitter.

Roger Stone, the controversial and colorful Republican strategist who worked on the Trump campaign, also praised Ailes on Twitter, calling him "a good friend, great American and communications genius."

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT

MORE ON AILES

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Ousted Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson hits Roger Ailes with sexual harassment suit

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UPDATES:

1:19 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments.

This article was originally published at 11:55 a.m.

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