The influential television executive, who has died aged 77, made his name in the 1960s with Richard Nixon and became a formidable cog in the Murdoch machine
1960s and 70s – On the political trail with Nixon
In 1967, a 27-year-old Ailes was working on the Mike Douglas Show when he met and impressed Richard Nixon. The following year he was hired as a political consultant to be “Nixon’s executive producer for television”. Ailes successfully recast the awkward Nixon, whose presidential run in 1960 crashed after a stilted debate with John F Kennedy. The partnership with Ailes helped Nixon win the 1968 presidential election.
As a political consultant, Ailes would later help Ronald Reagan win in 1984, and run an infamously negative campaign to get George HW Bush into the White House in 1988.
1970s to 1990s - Political consultancy and CNBC
Off the back of the success with Nixon, Ailes joined Television News Incorporated, a new rightwing TV network with more than a hint of what was to come with Fox News, in 1974. It collapsed in 1975 and Ailes went mostly back to political consultancy. But in 1993, he was made head of CNBC, creating the first and still most-watched financial news channel.
1996 – Joining forces with Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch had long wanted in on the TV news business – he made a failed run at CNN, which was snapped up by Time Warner – and signing up Ailes led to the launch of Fox News.
Over the next 20 years, Ailes would to build the business into the most profitable part of the Murdoch empire and a formidable rightwing news machine.
2000 – Calling the presidential election for Bush
Ailes’s planning of the election-night coverage, including having George W Bush’s cousin and former Boston Globe columnist John Prescott Ellis lead Fox’s decision desk, proved a masterstroke of political manipulation.
The trigger-happy Ellis, who had admitted in a Globe column he was biased in his loyalty to Bush, jumped on data showing Bush had a narrow lead and called the election in his cousin’s favour.
That moment revealed the power of Fox News, as every other network followed suit – even though Florida was still rated too close to call by the vote-tracking consortium used by all the networks.
“We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not,” says Dan Rather, who was anchoring the election coverage for CBS that night. “But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical.”
2005 – The all-powerful Ailes coup
Ailes, by this time one of the most powerful executives in the Murdoch empire, nevertheless has an occasionally fractious relationship with the younger generation of the Murdoch clan.
Tensions with Lachlan, Rupert’s eldest son, reportedly resulted in Lachlan’s departure from the business in 2005. Ailes, who took credit for his departure, took over Lachlan’s portfolio, becoming chair of Fox Television and reportedly even his office.
2014-17 – Sexual harassment allegations and Fox News exit
By 2009, a seemingly all-powerful Ailes earned himself a $24m pay package – a deal slightly larger than that of Rupert Murdoch that year.
In 2014, allegations emerged in a book about Ailes and inappropriate behaviour toward a female executive. Fox News and Ailes denied them.
A string of allegations and lawsuits emerged over the next two years.
In July last year, 11 years after ousting Lachlan, now back in the fold running the family business with his father and younger brother James, he negotiated an exit package from Fox News worth a reported $40m.
Ailes continued to advise Murdoch and 21st Century until the end of 2018 but died in May 2017, aged 77.