How Ailes’ Friends Remember Him: Brilliant, Funny, Patriotic Warrior

Former Fox News CEO remembered for transforming lives in addition to an industry

by Margaret Menge | Updated 18 May 2017 at 10:45 PM

“One of my closest and dearest friends and colleagues passed away at six minutes after 8 o’clock this morning here in South Florida,..” talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh said in the opening of his show on Thursday. “Roger and I were passengers in history. I met Roger Ailes around 1990 one night at dinner at the 21 Club in New York, and my life was never the same thereafter.”

“What I would like for people to know is the Roger Ailes that I knew,” said Limbaugh, telling his listeners that the Ailes he knew was “brilliant” and “inspiring” and “a naturally funny human being” who had the ability “to motivate and to enthuse” the thousands of people who worked for him over many years, in politics and in media.

“If only Donald Trump had a visionary and strategist, someone who understood message discipline like Ailes inside his White House today.”

Ailes, a television producer who served as an adviser to President Richard Nixon and was the co-founder, with Rupert Murdoch, of Fox News, died suddenly at the age of 77 in Palm Beach County, Florida, on Thursday morning. No cause of death had yet been determined.

Limbaugh went on to talk about the “barrage of slander and libel” aimed at Ailes, saying it came from “pissants who will never accomplish even five percent of what he did.”

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“These are people that did not know him, that prejudged him, that were jealous, people who were envious, and people who felt the need to take down a serious enemy who threatened what they considered to be their rightful hold on the media, on America, what have you.”

Limbaugh went on to relate how he teamed up with Roger Ailes in 1992 on the Rush Limbaugh TV Show, which Ailes executive-produced, and how one night in New York, where Limbaugh’s radio show was broadcast from a studio at WABC in mid-town Manhattan, Ailes called him up and said, “Pack a bag, President Bush wants to talk to you.” They flew to Washington and had dinner with the Bushes in the White House that night.

“Roger was able to open doors for people, and willingly and happily did so,” Limbaugh said, adding that it was never to benefit himself, but always to help someone else, or to benefit a cause.

Radio talk-show host and Fox News host Sean Hannity took to Twitter Thursday morning shortly after the news of Ailes’ death broke, saying, “America lost one of its great patriotic warriors” and referred to Ailes as “a true American original.”

“For decades RA has impacted American politics and media. He has dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape single-handedly for the better. Neither will ever be the same again, as he was a true American original,” Hannity wrote in a series of tweets. “Few people in this life will ever reach the profound level of impact that Roger Ailes had on the country every single day. As his opponents played checkers in life, Roger was always the strategist, playing Chess, 5 steps ahead at a whole other level.”

Rupert Murdoch, the founder of the Fox News Channel and the man who hired Roger Ailes to run it, released a statement Thursday morning that was posted on the Fox News website.

"Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes," the statement read, "A brilliant broadcaster, Roger played a huge role in shaping America's media over the last thirty years. He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted. Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs. At 21st Century Fox, we will always be enormously grateful for the great business he built. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Elizabeth and son Zachary.'"

Laura Ingraham, editor-in-chief of LifeZette and a Fox News contributor, called Ailes a "friend and mentor" in a statement on Thursday morning, saying Ailes "understood how to produce powerful storytelling in politics, entertainment and news" and that countless television personalities who worked for him "owe their careers to his good judgment and guidance."

"If only Donald Trump had a visionary and strategist, someone who understood message discipline like Ailes inside his White House today," she said.

On her nationally-syndicated radio show on Thursday morning, Ingraham said she and her children spent Easter Sunday with Roger Ailes, his wife, and others.

"We had just the best day," she said. "We had so much fun. He was in a wheelchair. He had health problems. But he was still Roger. He was just hilarious. We were screaming laughing."

Ingraham blasted some of the coverage of Ailes' death in the mainstream media, which focused heavily on Ailes' departure from Fox News in July 2016 after Gretchen Carlson and other Fox News employees accused him of sexual harassment.

"I'm watching these nasty, hateful people on CNN and MSNBC, I think to myself, 'How many of them tried to get jobs at Fox?' One of them is Joe Scarborough. He tried to get Roger to hire him I think six or seven times. He has been begging to be hired by Fox News. And Roger had the good judgment to say, 'No. I'm sorry.' He had the good judgment to say, 'No, we're OK. We're good.' And all these other people. He wouldn't hire Brian Stelter if he was the last man on the planet to host a show. He just knew talent, he understood talent … he understood, he was a visionary."

Former governor of Arkansas and 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a guest on "The Laura Ingraham Show" on Thursday, called Ailes "a great patriot" who started out poor and worked "really hard" to build a career for himself. Huckabee related a story about a cleaning woman at Fox News who one day got up the courage to walk into Ailes' office and say, "Mr. Ailes, I'd like to be a makeup artist." Ailes, says Huckabee, was so impressed by her chutzpah, that he put her in makeup school, and the woman, he said, is now "one of the best, most beloved, and respected makeup artists at the channel today."

Roger Ailes made his home for the most of the last two decades in rural Putnam County, New York, a little more than an hour straight north of Manhattan, in a Hudson River town called Garrison, and also lived for a time in New Jersey. Last September, he and his wife bought an oceanfront home in Palm Beach, Florida, for $36 million.

Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a biography of Ailes, reported on Thursday on Twitter that Ailes had fallen at his new home on Palm Beach last week and had a blood clot as a result of the fall.

The Palm Beach County medical examiner's office told LifeZette that the body of Roger Ailes was expected to arrive there Thursday afternoon, and that there would be an examination to determine the cause of death. A former reporter for the Palm Beach Post, Jose Lambiet, who runs the website "Gossip Extra," reported that Ailes died in a hospital in West Palm Beach overnight last night.

Howard Kurtz, the host of the Fox News program "Media Buzz" and a former media reporter with The Washington Post ("Reliable Sources"), was on the air on Fox News on Thursday morning, saying he was "a little shell-shocked" at the news of Ailes' death.

He said that when he first talked to Ailes about doing a show on Fox, several years ago, Ailes told him: "As long as you don't take cheap shots, you can do what you need to do."

"And he lived up to that," said Kurtz. "He gave me independence to do what I needed to do."

Kurtz said he thinks there were a lot of stereotypes about Ailes that were not true, in his experience.

"One thing, even beyond politics — he was sort of a genius at politics — he was an incredibly good manager," Kurtz said. "He understood television, graphics, pacing, in a way that forced every other cable news channel to imitate in some way."

Ailes provided leadership, he said, but didn't insist everyone on the channel fall in line.

"The notion that he put out marching orders, everybody had to march in lock step, that's simply not true," Kurtz said. "I mean, certainly there are prominent conservative voices on this network, but there is a wide range of opinion, and when Donald Trump ran for president there were those who were very much for him and there were those who were critical of him. I think that speaks to the kind of news operation that Roger Ailes built."

Ailes is credited with pioneering modern news-talk shows, what Limbaugh once referring to as "talk radio on TV."

Under his leadership, Fox News shows grabbed the highest ratings in almost every evening news slot for years, with hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity dominating their time slots.

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