Roger Ailes, Who Built Fox News Into an Empire, Dies at 77

From its debut on Oct. 7, 1996, the network, under his tutelage, did its share of straightforward reporting but also unmistakably filtered major news stories through a conservative lens. Evening programming, which embodied the Fox News brand, was dominated by right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, who hurled opinions and vented resentments with a pugnacity that reflected their boss’s own combativeness.

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Rupert Murdoch, left, and Mr. Ailes in 2007. They shared the belief that existing news organizations were far too liberal, and started Fox News after Mr. Ailes had a falling out with NBC.

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Louis Lanzano/Associated Press

As the network’s chairman and chief executive, Mr. Ailes was widely feared, particularly by conservative politicians who sought his favor. He cultivated a swaggering persona, accentuated by bursts of obscenity-laced anger. Once, he became so enraged that he punched a hole in the wall of a control room.

“I don’t ignore anything,” he acknowledged in a 2003 profile in The New Yorker. “Somebody gets in my face, I get in their face.”

Years earlier, Lee Atwater, whose remorseless approach to politics matched that of Mr. Ailes when they worked together on George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, described his colleague as having “two speeds: attack and destroy.”

Both speeds were evident at the Ailes-run Fox News. For loyal viewers, it was the network of choice to hear repeatedly about the moral failings of Bill and Hillary Clinton, questions about Barack Obama’s birthplace, doubts about the patriotism of American Muslims, grumblings about the war ostensibly being waged on Christmas, and warnings about “death panels” that would supposedly flourish under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

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