Roger Ailes helped pave the way for Trump's victory

How Roger Ailes reshaped media and politics
How Roger Ailes reshaped media and politics

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 9, 2016.

Roger Ailes spent two decades building Fox News into an organization that cultivated the conditions for Donald Trump's stunning victory. The irony is that he wasn't with Fox when the candidate crossed the finish line.

As the mastermind behind Fox News Channel, Ailes contributed to an environment that told the public, over and over not to trust mainstream media. Along with conservative talkradio, Fox helped create an aggressive alternative that sought to counter and often undermine traditional sources of news.

In addition, Fox played a significant role in establishing Trump as a credible political voice, featuring him regularly on "Fox & Friends" and other Fox programs. In the campaign's stretch drive, Trump repeatedly returned to friendly Fox hosts -- most notably Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly's shows -- as venues to get out his message, which was readily picked up by other outlets.

Ailes presided over Fox News as if it were both a political operation and a media enterprise. Interviewed by NPR in July, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman said he became "the most influential Republican in American life over the last 40 years" by recognizing the convergence of TV and politics.

Even Ailes' departure from Fox, brought about by allegations that he sexually harassed female employees, offered a strange parallel to Trump's campaign. While those charges prompted Fox's parent company to remove him, enough voters chose Trump -- despite evidence regarding his own sexual misconduct -- to elect him.

Related: How politicians, pollsters and media missed Trump's groundswell

With its opinion hosts largely sidelined (O'Reilly and Hannity appeared briefly and called in, respectively), there was little gloating on Fox News election night. Indeed, the network's anchors and commentators seemed as stunned by the outcome as almost everyone else in media, having spent most of the day dabbling in "what if Trump loses" scenarios.

Myriad factors obviously played a part in Trump's win, and the postmortems will occupy pundits, analysts and historians for years. The list includes CNN, which covered Trump early and often, as did other media outlets, initially spurred by his celebrity and the reward of high ratings and web traffic.

Still, as negative coverage of Trump piled up, what can be called "the Fox effect" became clear. Trump supporters could dismiss stories in the New York Times and Washington Post as coming from the "liberal media," a collective source Fox has consistently sought to discredit.

A longtime Trump friend, Ailes reportedly became an informal adviser after leaving Fox. The network, meanwhile, finds itself in a state of transition, not merely adjusting to his absence, but now adapting to what it will be like not to be a perceived mouthpiece for the party that's out of power.

Ailes was long seen as a Democratic tormentor and Republican kingmaker, including Fox's habit of providing conservative politicians a platform by employing them when they were out of office.

Ailes ceded his own corporate throne just short of Fox News' 20th anniversary. But the effects of his work and strategy came to fruition on Tuesday.


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