Battenfeld: Roger Ailes rewired cable TV newscasts

May 19, 2017 GMT

Roger Ailes was Donald Trump long before there was a Trump campaign.

Ailes challenged traditional media and politics, and in true Trump-like fashion, changed them permanently.

The former Fox News chief fashioned the cable network into a provocative, graphics-driven news product with a catchy slogan, “fair and balanced,” and courted viewers that the other networks overlooked — conservative middle Americans. The very same viewers who elected Trump.

Ailes also changed the way politicians acted — contributing to the hyper-partisan era we now live in.

He was a brilliant political strategist who advised the first President Bush, George H. W., to attack Dan Rather and then reportedly wrote the infamous “tank ad” in 1988 that helped torpedo Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign — though others have claimed credit for making the ad.

Like Trump, the brash Ailes was hated by liberals and the establishment but reveled in it. His enemies in the media eventually helped bring about his downfall — with a big assist from Ailes himself — but his imprint can be seen every night on cable news outlets.

MSNBC, CNN and others can thank Ailes for turning them into partisan-driven vehicles that try to attract liberals and others turned off by Fox News. They still get trounced by Fox just about every night, but at least they have a clear agenda and a target audience.

Many Democrats who viewed Ailes as the enemy might be surprised to learn that he got along with others outside the Republican Party and was respected by journalists from other networks.

One of Ailes’ close friends was Teresa Heinz Kerry, the multimillionaire and wife of former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. John Kerry. That despite the fact that Fox News wasn’t exactly kind to Kerry’s presidential campaign.

And despite Fox’s depiction as a tool of Trump, the network was actually friendlier to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Ailes’ biggest strength was tapping into the frustrations and fears of conservatives who felt they were being ignored or misunderstood by the New York-based mainstream media.

Despite his own wealth and lifestyle, Ailes made Fox News the voice of the opposition — viewers who rejected the fading big networks and saw Fox as more in tune with their views and lives.

Even after he turned Fox into a ratings powerhouse, Ailes remained somewhat of an outcast.

After allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, he didn’t last long and was quickly sent away with a reported $40 million severance.

And after his death yesterday, a number of obituaries called Fox a “right wing” network and accused Ailes of dividing Americans — ignoring the fact that much of the rest of the media is more partisan than Fox.