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Former Fox News head Roger Ailes’ death on Thursday sparked a debate about his legacy overseeing the rise of a dominant right-leaning news network marred by accusations of harassment.
Many prominent conservatives paid respect to Ailes, who advised a number of Republican presidential candidates before helping launch Fox News.
Former President George H. W. Bush tweeted that while his “friend” Ailes “wasn’t perfect,” he may not have been elected president without him.
A number of Fox News personalities also paid tribute to Ailes following his death.
Hosts Bret Baier, Bill Hemmer, and Sean Hannity quickly praised Ailes, and Ainsley Earhardt choked up on “Fox & Friends” while announcing Ailes’ death.
Still, others noted that his legacy was undoubtedly marked by the culture of harassment that some say flourished at Fox News under his watch.
Ailes left the company last year amid a number of accusations that he sexually harassed women at the company.
His ouster set off a chain of events that led to the departure of Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly earlier this year under similar circumstances, forcing Fox to bring in an independent law firm to investigate harassment at the network. Federal prosecutors launched a probe into the company last year to determine whether it misled shareholders about the scope of harassment within the network.
None of this was lost on critics on Twitter.
skirts at Fox News today will be lowered to half-mast
— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) May 18, 2017
Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean you have to say something nice about him. Would he give you the same break?
— Jack Shafer (@jackshafer) May 18, 2017
Loving the people talking about Ailes like “we all had our sins” like yeah who hasn’t had to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit or ten
— Lindsay Ellis (@thelindsayellis) May 18, 2017
Death demands a humane response. Our thoughts & prayers should be with the countless women Roger Ailes sexually assaulted & humiliated.
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 18, 2017
What I said on CNN: Ailes was bold, brilliant, but also crass, inappropriate. He helped a lot of people, but also hurt people. Complicated. https://t.co/FYJCYZpPFp
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 18, 2017
It’s OK to be happy when bad people die
— Barry Petchesky (@barry) May 18, 2017
Others criticized Ailes’ editorial instincts.
Throughout Ailes’ tenure, Fox News pushed a conservative agenda, particularly in primetime and early-morning programming. That helped catapult it to the top of the cable news network ratings.
While supporters felt the network showed a previously underrepresented point-of-view, others argued that it negatively affected the American political discourse by papering over facts in service of right-wing ideology.
Roger Ailes authored the most successful lie in broadcast history in the U.S. That Fox was not the conservative alternative but just “news.”
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) May 18, 2017
Yes, Roger Ailes was a TV genius. He also had an apparently monstrous personal life and nasty, dangerous editorial instincts.
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) May 18, 2017
Think about how shrewd it was to label Fox News “Fair & Balanced,” and how that misappropriation undermined trust in the mainstream media.
— Jeremy W. Peters (@jwpetersNYT) May 18, 2017
I think an overlooked & stunningly large-scale harm is that Ailes truly poisoned the brains of entire swathes of older people, ad nauseam
— Dan CO’Sullivfefe (@Bro_Pair) May 18, 2017
Roger Ailes behaved egregiously toward women in his organization and changed our culture for the worse, making people dumber and angrier.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) May 18, 2017
Some reporters chided Ailes’ critics for grave-dancing.
The Hill’s Joe Concha, who occasionally appears Fox News, snarked at several critics who posted tweets noting Ailes’ alleged behavior toward some women at Fox News.