Roger Ailes Is Dead, But the Poisonous America He Helped Build Lives On

A man so unpleasant that the “never speak ill of the dead” maxim goes straight out the window.

It’s generally the convention that one doesn’t speak ill of the dead. In the case of Roger Ailes, the reptilian former Fox News chief who died this morning, this has made for some pretty short obituaries, because there’s really not a great deal nice to say about the man. Neither I personally nor Flavorwire as a publication are given to going out of our way to break this rule, but the tone of some of the obituaries I’ve read this morning has been so weaselly that this apparently needs to be said: fuck Roger Ailes.

Fox News is an institution on which history will look back with wonder and disbelief. Its role in pushing the poisonous philosophy of conservatism onto the American public can’t be overstated. Ailes built the network into what it is today, using Rupert Murdoch’s money to construct a machine that will persist long after his death. So, too, will damage he’s done to this country, to the world, and to the unfortunate women who had to fend off his advances for decades. Ailes’s legacy is racism, climate change denial, jingoism, sexism, hypocrisy, and the advancement of the interests of himself and the small group of wealthy white men to which he belonged, at the expense of the rest of humanity.

It’s important to be clear about this, too. Part of the power Fox News wields is its insistence on its status as a legitimate news institution; it presented itself as an antidote to a media landscape that it accused of liberal bias. On its launch, its slogan was “fair and balanced.” The cynicism of this strategy remains impressive in its shamelessness: Fox was never, ever either fair or balanced, and surely never had any aspiration to be so. But its insistence that it was somehow impartial helped drag the entire media landscape toward the right, doing the same thing in America that Murdoch’s rabid tabloids have done for years across the Atlantic.

Fox News was even more successful in doing so than The Sun or the News of the World, and a large part of the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for this goes to Ailes. His network was perhaps the first place in which the American right shamelessly embraced the far right, forming an unholy alliance that has now made its way all the way to the White House. It showed how far Murdoch, Ailes and their ilk would go to ensure that the game continued to be rigged in their favor: far enough to get people killed.

I’m not exaggerating. The network’s hostility to America’s black population helped create an environment in which police brutality could flourish. Its hostility to single-payer healthcare has cost lives. Its shilling for the war in Iraq cost lives. Its hostility to climate change science will cost, many, many lives. Its cynical appeals to patriotism as a justification for policies that hurt the very people who vote for them has bred a climate of jingoism and closed-mindedness.

Even before Fox News, Ailes was making a career out of toxifying American political media: he served as a media advisor to Richard Nixon and, as this Politico piece points out, ‘tutor[ed] presidents from … Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush in the ways of media politics.’ As that piece argues, he was perhaps the single person most responsible for the Republican Party’s descent into unconstrained populism, a strategy that would see its apotheosis in the creation of Fox News three decades after he first advised Nixon on the power of television and its ability to sow dissent.

Given the moral bankruptcy of the network he built, it’s no surprise that Ailes was as unpleasant in his personal life as he was in a professional capacity. His long trail of alleged sexual assault at the network has been well-documented; I’ve written here before about how conservatism is inherently misogynist, and Ailes’s behavior demonstrated that fact only too well. His departure from the network was catalyzed by these allegations, but he left at the age of 76, with a $40m payoff. This was, to put it lightly, the softest of falls from grace.

And now he’s dead, but Fox News lives on. America remains a divided, polarized, broken nation. There’s a fascist in the White House. And the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. This is the America that Roger Ailes helped build: a country in which rich conservatives like him live like kings in their gated communities while the poor work for a pittance. So, basically: if you don’t want to speak ill of the dead, then don’t say anything about Roger Ailes. There’s nothing good to say about him. Nothing at all.