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Roger Ailes’ death shook the Fox News community. Members of the network shared their condolences on Twitter.
USA TODAY

We often forget that in America, in the realm of the free market, journalism is the stepchild of advertising. NPR and its subsidiaries aside (and there are many who will argue that it is them, as well), from a business-model standpoint, journalism attracts eyes to the medium, and holds them there long enough for advertising to do its work. As every good newspaperman will tell you, it is the advertising that pays the bills – not the subscription price.

Roger Ailes understood this. As a media consultant and political campaign operative, Ailes didn’t possess the sense that some journalists have, of being a member of a sacred order, a special priesthood. He understood exactly where journalism stood in the pecking order of business and the demands for profits.

More importantly, after working in the campaigns for such Republican luminaries as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani, Roger Ailes knew how to read a poll. He understood the ways in which many Americans viewed journalism and how they longed for a medium that would reinforce, rather than negate, their values and viewpoints.

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For many Americans, what journalism has to say for itself had taken a long road from partisan organs with names like “The Whig” (with the advertising on the front page), to those wonderful post-World War II days when Americans viewed the press as a kind of comrade-in-arms, to its apotheosis during the Watergate Scandal, to its marginalization as a creature of the economic and cultural left.

Roger Ailes understood that the consumers of media (what, in an earlier time were called ‘readers’ or ‘viewers’) were discontent with the “product” or “medium” into which the advertising for goods and services was placed. He understood that they wanted to be affirmed – not slapped in the face – as they absorbed the message of what to spend their money on.

And so, Ailes began to build his media empire.

Remember that Fox News came on to the scene at a time when the penny had only just dropped and media bias was starting to be directly addressed by political campaigns. Recall those signs at 1992 rallies for then President George H.W. Bush that read: “Vote for Bush. Annoy the media.” When, in 1996, Fox News adopted the slogan, “Fair and Balanced,” it was a direct response to what had be raised four years before.

Being a political operative from a television background, Ailes was brilliant in developing his programming and in building an audience. Instead of a paternalistic media talking down to the public and…