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Roger Ailes Reinvented News

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Thursday, 18 May 2017 02:46 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Much will be said in the coming days about the late Roger Ailes, but this much is certain: The former president of Fox News, who died Thursday morning at age 77, will be remembered as a consequential figure who changed the way television news is reported.

Ailes demonstrated that there were alternatives to the news presented by the big three television networks. His vision was not a flash-in-the-pan concept — it was more of a new way of life for news.

Ailes was also a pioneer in marketing political candidates for television. He could easily be remembered as the “great pathfinder” of modern television campaigning.

To understand Ailes’ role in making television the player it is in political campaigns, one has only to look back at the TV advertising that was run by politicians prior to 1968.

In 1952, the first time presidential candidates used TV spots in their campaigns, Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson appeared primarily as “talking heads” speaking into the camera.

Successive presidential campaigns usually used footage from rallies, followed by an admonition from an announcer urging viewers to vote for that candidate.

In his 20s as a producer for TV’s “Mike Douglas Show,” Ailes had different ideas. Following an appearance by Richard Nixon with Douglas in 1967, Ailes sat down with the former vice president and shared his vision of using television more effectively in campaigns.

Nixon, who had always dismissed television as a “gimmick” in politics, was convinced. When he launched his campaign for the White House the following year, he named Ailes as “television executive.”

Ailes’ role in making Nixon more likeable to voters through TV spots was delineated in journalist Joe McGuiness’ book “The Selling of the President” (which made McGuiness a small fortune).

Pat Buchanan had particularly strong memories of the four-hour telethon broadcast live on the day before the election, which featured Nixon taking phoned-in questions from around the country.

“The producer of those four hours was 28-year-old Roger Ailes, who limped around, as he had torn ligaments in his ankle from a rookie parachute jump,” recalled Buchanan. “I would take in the questions phoned into the Nixon volunteers, read and rewrite them, dictate more precise answers . . . then I put the questions in a tiny pile in the order in which they were to be asked and sent them out to [former University of Oklahoma football coach and telethon moderator] Bud Wilkinson.”

Joe McGuiness wrote that Nixon “leaned into it as Bud Wilkinson asked every question and responded in his most conversational tone. The substance was no different from what it had been all along, but the style was at its peak.”

Nixon wrote after his presidency that opting for the live telethon “was my best campaign decision. Had we not had that last telethon, I believe Humphrey would have squeaked through with a close win on Election Day.”

The 1968 race launched Ailes as a media consultant. He worked for several winning Republican candidates in the mid-term elections of 1970. In 1988, his TV spots were considered key to George H.W. Bush’s come-from-behind win over Michael Dukakis. Three years later, he left media consulting to pursue other ventures.

But American political campaigns had changed forever, thanks in part to his influence.

“Roger was ahead of his time in the coming age of TV,” Buchanan told me. “Fox News is the lengthened shadow of his singular genius.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2017 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 
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Much will be said in the coming days about the late Roger Ailes, but this much is certain: The former president of Fox News, who died Thursday morning at age 77, will be remembered as a consequential figure who changed the way television news is reported.
ailes, fox, murdoch, nixon
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2017-46-18
Thursday, 18 May 2017 02:46 PM
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