To say that Roger Ailes led a full life is a massive understatement. A force of nature with an agenda, RA, as fellow executives called him, was a man on a mission.
That quest was to infuse America with traditional philosophy and see to it that conservatives like him were heard loud and clear.
The list of legendary Americans whom Roger helped is long and impressive. From Ronald Reagan to George Bush, the elder, to Rush Limbaugh, Ailes gave them all blunt advice that led them to success.
And it was that bluntness that made his life difficult, as enemies accumulated — some armed with a brutal hatred.
It was the Fox News channel that crowned Roger’s career of achievement. In 1996, the cable news start-up was mocked by CNN’s Ted Turner. Few thought Ailes and his inexperienced crew would dethrone the mighty international news agency that Turner helmed.
But it happened and relatively quickly.
I was there at the beginning. When Roger offered me an hourly program, I asked if he’d like to see a written outline.
Ailes scoffed, told me to be fair and tough but, most of all, not to screw it up. I knew that I had to meet his personal challenge: work hard, be honest in my opinions. Do not seek to curry favor.
Not once in almost 20 years did Roger Ailes order me to say anything on the air. I had total independence. In private, I sometimes challenged his orthodoxy. I wish I had taped that.
When stuff hit the fan, as it will when you are doing daily political commentary in a polarized nation, Roger had my back. Even in the beginning when my ratings were not dominant. He defended me in public even while sometimes mocking me in private. He was genuine, charismatic, profane, generous and sincere in his beliefs. He could be brutal verbally but if you were straight with him, he would protect you.
Over the years, I saw Roger literally save people from destruction. And more than a few. He didn’t have to do it, there was no benefit to him. In the callous world of TV news, that kind of generosity is rare. If a Fox person had trouble, Roger was the guy to go to. But you had to be honest.
When Roger departed Fox News last July under a cloud of suspicion, the vast majority of Fox employees were sad. We were not privy to executive actions and while opinions were many, facts were few. Roger was convicted of bad behavior in the court of public opinion, and it was painful for many of us to watch. He, himself, was stunned and never really recovered.
It’s easy to make judgments from afar — but fair people know that seeking the truth is a complicated and demanding process. In my opinion, few sought the comprehensive truth about Roger Ailes.
Millions of Americans have been affected by Fox News, no doubt about that. In a nation where the national press is generally sympathetic to the left, Fox gives voice to a more traditional point of view that other TV news operations historically ignored. That is a very good thing for our republic, and Roger Ailes is directly responsible.
So at age 77, Roger is gone. Some in the press continued to demean him even on the day of his death. He leaves a wife and son who knew him best and adored him. For Roger, that meant more than all his accomplishments, and I hope that brought him solace in his last tough year.
We are living in a rough age, with technological advances changing behavior and perspective. The downside of that is turning us into a nation where hatred is almost celebrated in some quarters.
Roger Ailes experienced that hatred and it killed him. That is the truth. But he would not want to be remembered that way. He did both good and bad in his life and in that, he has something in common with every human being.
When I remember Roger, as I often will, I’ll picture him holding court with his top anchors, jazzing them with wit, verbally crushing any and all pretensions. He was truly a force, an unforgettable person.
It was a privilege to know him.