Roger E. Ailes, who shaped the images that helped elect three Republican presidents and then became a dominant, often-intimidating force in American conservative politics at the helm of Fox News until he was forced out last year in a sexual harassment scandal, died on Thursday morning. He was 77.

The cause was complications of a subdural hematoma that Mr. Ailes sustained when he fell and struck his head on May 10 at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., the local authorities said.

“Fair and balanced” was Mr. Ailes’s defining phrase for Fox News, along with another slogan: “We report. You decide.” Though routinely mocked by liberal critics, who regarded the network as decidedly unfair and imbalanced, those words amounted to an article of faith for Mr. Ailes, who created Fox News with Rupert Murdoch’s money and guided it for two decades.

“If we look conservative,” he said, “it’s because the other guys are so far to the left.” In his mordant humor, CNN stood for Clinton News Network and CBS for Communist Broadcasting System. What Fox News did, he said, was apply a necessary corrective.

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From its debut on Oct. 7, 1996, the network, under his tutelage, did its share of straightforward reporting but also unmistakably filtered major news stories through a conservative lens. Evening programming, which embodied the Fox News brand, was dominated by right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, who hurled opinions and vented resentments with a pugnacity that reflected their boss’s own combativeness.

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Roger Ailes: Polarizing Media Mastermind

Roger Ailes was a dominant force in American conservative politics at the helm of Fox News for two decades until he was forced out in a sexual harassment scandal last year. He died at 77.


By ROBIN STEIN, ELSA BUTLER, CHRIS CIRILLO and MARK SCHEFFLER on Publish Date May 18, 2017.


Photo by Ángel Franco/The New York Times.

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As the network’s chairman and chief executive, Mr. Ailes was widely feared, particularly by conservative politicians who sought his favor. He cultivated a swaggering persona, accentuated by bursts of obscenity-laced anger. Once, he became so enraged that he punched a hole in the wall of a control room.

“I don’t ignore anything,” he acknowledged in a 2003 profile in The New Yorker. “Somebody gets in my face, I get in their face.”

Years earlier, Lee Atwater, whose remorseless approach to politics matched that of Mr. Ailes when they worked together on George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, described his colleague as having “two speeds: attack and destroy.”

A Conservative Haven

Both speeds were evident at the Ailes-run Fox News. For loyal viewers, it was the network of choice to hear repeatedly about the moral failings of Bill and Hillary Clinton, questions about Barack Obama’s birthplace, doubts about the patriotism of American Muslims, grumblings about the war ostensibly being waged on Christmas, and warnings about “death panels” that would supposedly flourish under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Fox News embraced the American flag as if it were its own, then became an uninhibited booster of the Iraq War and an unabashed critic of those who opposed it.

The network also made itself a haven for Republicans who had fallen from political grace and hoped to restart their careers, among them Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. Mr. Hannity’s show was effectively a public-relations vehicle for one presidential candidate who made it to the top: Donald J. Trump.

Even more than he embraced political combat, Mr. Ailes keenly understood television and its reliance on attention-grabbing flourishes. He learned the medium’s emotional impact in the 1960s as the young producer of “The Mike Douglas Show,” a syndicated daytime variety program. To hold people’s interest, “you have to be punchy and graphic in your conversation,” he wrote in a 1988 book, “You Are the Message.”

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Rupert Murdoch, left, and Mr. Ailes in 2007. They shared the belief that existing news organizations were far too liberal, and started Fox News after Mr. Ailes had a falling out with NBC.

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Louis Lanzano/Associated Press

He put that instinct to effective use, and to personal profit, after he left the Douglas show in 1968 to devote himself to political stagecraft. Across more than two decades, he devised media strategies for several dozen political campaigns, including the winning presidential candidacies of Richard M. Nixon in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Mr. Bush in 1988. In 2016, he informally advised the triumphant Trump campaign.

At Mr. Ailes’s Fox, the news was delivered with eye-catching graphics and whooshing sound effects. Female broadcasters tended to be attractive blondes encouraged to show more than a little leg. “Look, there’s a certain element of the melding with show business or entertainment,” he told Broadcasting & Cable magazine in 2003. “Entertainment and news should always be separate, but you should walk right up to the line and get your toe on it.”

His methods served the network well. In January 2002, barely five years after its birth, Fox passed the well-established CNN as the most-watched cable news network. It stayed No. 1, reinforcing Mr. Ailes’s political influence. Power made him anxious about his personal safety. Convinced that enemies like Al Qaeda had him in their cross hairs, he installed elaborate security measures at work and at home.

At the end of his tenure, the network had an average daily viewership of 2 million, more than CNN and the left-leaning MSNBC combined. Its audience skewed white, male and old, the median age approaching 70. But they were passionate viewers. Their fidelity produced billion-dollar profits and made Fox News an indispensable component of the Murdoch empire, 21st Century Fox.

In a statement on Thursday morning, Mr. Murdoch said Mr. Ailes “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,” he added. “In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”

Sudden Ouster

Although an Ailes admirer, Mr. Murdoch reluctantly concluded in the summer of 2016 that his news chief had to go after a former network anchor, Gretchen Carlson, brought a lawsuit charging Mr. Ailes with sexual harassment. Her action set in motion a cascade of allegations from women, who reported unwanted groping and demands for sex by him. Some of them described an overall culture of misogyny at Fox News. The scandal enveloped the network’s top star, Bill O’Reilly, whose employment was abruptly ended last month.

How Politicians and Members of the News Media Responded

In the hours after Mr. Ailes’s death was announced, there was an outpouring of reaction online.