19 May 2017

Fox News founder Roger Ailes dies

10:03 am on 19 May 2017

Fox News founder and former chief executive Roger Ailes has died aged 77.

Roger Ailes, at left, with wife Elizabeth Tilson leaving  the News Corp building in New York, 19 July 2016.

Roger Ailes, pictured last year with wife Elizabeth Tilson Photo: AFP

His wife, Elizabeth Tilson, announced his death in a statement posted on the Fox News website on Thursday. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Mr Ailes resigned from Fox News last July following allegations of sexual harassment, marking an abrupt end to his 20-year reign at the most-watched cable channel in the United States.

Fox News, which Mr Ailes started in 1996 with the backing of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, raised the temperature of on-air debate on US television, generally taking a hardline conservative view.

It has had a mixed relationship with US President Donald Trump, a longtime friend of Mr Ailes, but was instrumental in his election victory in November.

Ailes received a severance package of about $NZ58 million when he left Fox News, according to a source familiar with the situation. He went on to serve as an informal adviser to Mr Murdoch.

"Everybody at Fox News is shocked and grieved by the death of Roger Ailes," Mr Murdoch said in a statement.

"Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have," he added. "Roger was a patriot, who never ceased fighting for his beliefs."

Democrats also weighed in on someone they often saw as a foe. "I knew Ailes. Competed against him in campaigns," said David Axelrod, ex-adviser to former President Barack Obama, on Twitter. "Railed against him many times. But appreciated our frank, back-channel conversations."

Harassment lawsuits

Fox has been roiled by sexual harassment claims for more than a year, which prompted Mr Ailes' exit last summer and in April forced the departure of Bill O'Reilly, the channel's most-watched host, after the New York Times reported that Fox and Mr O'Reilly had paid five women a total of $NZ19m to settle harassment claims.

Fox News is facing several sex and race discrimination lawsuits from current and former anchors and other employees.

Mr Ailes was a defendant in a pending sexual harassment case brought by Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky, who said she was denied a full-time job after rejecting his advances.

In a separate case, former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros said Mr Ailes and the network spied on her and hacked her phone and computer after she complained of harassment.