I try to minimize my opinions in these emails and stick to facts, but today I hope you indulge me, because one of the most influential people in my life — and America — died Thursday morning. Roger Ailes was a powerhouse of ideas and actions, and his life should be an inspiration.
How do I write a few hundred words to describe a man who was a mentor and father figure? And also someone who pioneered television entertainment, political campaign advertising and built a revolutionary news network from scratch? Not easily.
Thirty years ago I was an ambitious grad student eager to conquer the world and Roger Ailes had just signed up to create the political advertising for Vice President George Bush in his bid to succeed Ronald Reagan.
Roger needed a sharp flunky and I needed a job. Over the next three decades, I learned more lessons from him than I can ever relate.
If you could choose only one word to describe Roger’s ethos, it’d be easy: loyalty. He expected it and he gave it in return.
He was our leader and he inspired like no man I have ever met. We didn’t work for Fox News, we worked for Roger Ailes and knew he would have our backs no matter what. When I flew to the Mideast to help free two colleagues from a kidnapping, I wasn’t worried that we’d be abandoned, I was more concerned that Roger might send in a commando team before it was needed. Fortunately, it wasn’t.
If you made a tough decision and could back it up with rationale, you never had to worry about your job. If a Fox person had a personal crisis or succumbed to a personal demon or accidentally said *#*%$* on the air, they didn’t need to fear Roger’s wrath, because he was there to get them on their feet.
His loyalty permeated throughout the organization he created. When one of my reporters was threatened with prison for refusing to divulge a source, Fox spent nearly $2 million defending her. Most corporations would have wrung their hands over an expense like that, but at Fox News, we didn’t even have a meeting to discuss it. We protected our people at all costs because it was the Ailes way.
He was also a careful man, to the extent that sometimes we called him paranoid. Quite often, though, that “paranoia” saved our hides and even when it was excessive, it was smart.
Few know this, but if a chemical or dirty bomb attack shut down New York City, Fox News was prepared. Even if Manhattan were evacuated you would have still seen your news anchors, because we had a secret studio across the river in New Jersey that we could fall back to. With hazmat suits. And boats to take us there if the bridges were down. If that failed, we had backup plans to run the channel from Washington, DC. And then Los Angeles.
Roger was a fierce competitor and always ready to fight for his country, his loved ones and his values. Yet, unlike the caricatures of him, he was a caring and generous man, with a comedian’s sense of humor and a quick smile.
We didn’t agree on every tactic and sometimes had heated conversations, but most ended with an “I love you” and shared knowledge that we were more father-and-son than boss-and-employee. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
His last year was difficult in so many ways, especially as multiple women accused him of harassment. It was something I never saw and am still not sure what to believe, but his political enemies within the company saw their opportunity to rid themselves of an opponent and took it. The press, who disliked losing to him and disliked his politics even more, jumped on him with a fervor. He left Fox News, moved to Florida with his wife Beth and, of course, continued to brag about his son Zach.
Roger was often nursing a bum ankle or shoulder or some ailment. His mobility had gotten worse and last week he took a hard fall at his home, hitting his head hard. He called me a few days later when we thought he would recover fully and shared a last “I love you,” but Roger also fought with hemophilia and eventually lost that final fight, as we are all destined to do.
He changed my life and the lives of so many others for the better. He changed America too.
ROGER AILES 1940-2017
Reprinted with permission of Ken LaCorte
Ken LaCorte on Twitter
Ken LaCorte was Vice President and Senior Executive Producer of FOX News Network, LLC since November 2006. Prior to this, Mr. LaCorte served as the Director of News Editorial of Fox News since 2003, where he oversaw editorial content for news reporting under Moody’s direction. Mr. LaCorte began his career at FOX News in 1998 as the Bureau Chief of the western region where he was responsible for editorial direction and management of news bureaus in Los Angeles.
Author of racist political TV spots.