Roger Ailes, who founded Fox News in 1996 after a few years running CNBC and a life in politics before that (the campaigns of Nixon, Reagan and H. W. Bush), died on Thursday after reportedly falling in his home in Florida.
Ailes was a giant in the world of media and politics, best known for pushing the values of white working-class, conservative Americans into primetime. In 2002, Fox News became the most-watched cable news network, beating CNN, and has remained there since. It’s largely responsible for the propulsion of George W. Bush’s two terms in the White House and the election of Donald Trump.
But Ailes wasn’t born a Republican. In a 2010 interview with Hoover Institution, Ailes explains how he was recruited into politics, and how his family in Warren, Ohio, were Democrats.
Many of my family were Democrats, I think, but they were World War II Democrats; they were very patriotic. They were very much in favor of the country. They might have been a little more pro-union, or what-have-you; I never had a political thought until they asked me to join the Richard Nixon campaign, but I joined as a television producer.
Ailes also says how he was a media expert first, when hired by Nixon’s campaign for president in 1967, ahead of the ‘68 election.
Now, the New York Times likes to write that I was somehow a strategist and in charge of the Southern strategy; I was hired to put the key light and the back light in the right place and make sure the tape was rolling. I was a good television producer, and everybody said, ‘[Nixon] will never get elected on television,’ and I thought, ‘That’s media challenge, and I’m pretty good at media; let me see what I can do here.’ And I didn’t disagree with his policies.
When pressed by an interviewer if he might have become a Democrat had he been recruited by that party, Ailes wouldn’t go that far, pointing to then President Lyndon B. Johnson’s commitment to sending troops to Vietnam.
Vietnam, my best friend was killed in that war. I was too old for it. I tried to fly; I couldn’t get into the flying because of eye sight when I was in my early 20s. Then, by the time I was 25, I was out of range of the draft, and so on, but I knew a lot of people who went, and I didn’t think that escalating 400,000 more troops warranted in a jungle that I didn’t know what we were going to win.
Watch the full interview below:
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Photos via Getty Images / Handout