Home / Politics / Media|With Roger Ailes Out, Will Fox News’s Influence on Politics Change? – New York Times
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Media|With Roger Ailes Out, Will Fox News’s Influence on Politics Change? – New York Times

“Roger Ailes is the epitome of somebody that is not politically correct and has the guts to say a lot of what Americans are thinking,” said Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, who used Mr. Ailes as a consultant in his early campaigns in 1986 and 1990. He added, “It will be interesting to see where we go from here.”

Photo

The Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, right, and the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the patriarch of 21st Century Fox. Credit Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The unrelenting style of Fox News often proved effective; an issue seized upon by the network would frequently take on urgency.

“I think back to when I was in the Bush White House, there was an issue with management of the ports being sold to a firm out of Dubai, and post-9/11 that was something Fox made an issue,” said Alex Conant, a founding partner at Firehouse Strategies, a Republican consulting firm. (He was referring to a 2006 controversy over a state-owned Dubai company seeking to manage operations at six major American ports.)

Mr. Conant added, “Once Fox made it an issue, then all of the sudden Congress made it an issue, and it was something that the Bush administration hadn’t seen as an issue, but suddenly became a big priority.”

With Barack Obama’s election, the network grew even more vociferous in its coverage, and became a persistent thorn in the side of the president.

“I have this searing memory of sitting at my desk in the Senate office when the madrassa thing first came up, and it appeared on ‘Fox and Friends,’” said Tommy Vietor, a former spokesman for Mr. Obama, recalling a false report from the 2008 campaign that Mr. Obama had been educated in a madrassa, or Islamic school.

“I think that was the beginning of an incredible tortured relationship with the network,” Mr. Vietor added. “There were times where it felt like every six months we were starting over with them with our approach.”

The White House and Fox often tried to repair tensions — at times David Axelrod would meet directly with Mr. Ailes to address a flare-up — but those were not always successful.

“Basically, Roger was going to do what Roger was going to do,” Mr. Axelrod said, calling the Fox News chief “brilliant.”

Tensions have abated over the years, and Mr. Obama recently sat for an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

Many conservatives view the mainstream media networks with skepticism, if not outright disdain, and the advent of Fox News gave a voice to those who had felt ignored or forced into a state of self-censorship. Using “illegal alien” when talking about immigration, for example, rather than the more politically correct “undocumented immigrant,” became a regular part of political dialogue.

“Without sounding paranoid, when you talk to people in the conservative world, and I’m part of that myself, you did feel that somehow it was stifling, that you could only go so far,” Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, of life before Fox News. “Roger Ailes provided an opportunity for that voice to come out. But I think we’re over that no matter what.”

In particular, the network’s prime-time stars, like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, helped bring an in-your-face news presentation to the largest audience possible. Their shows rose to be among the most watched in all of cable television (Mr. O’Reilly’s show is No. 1). In turn, the language on their shows often made its way to the stump speeches of candidates, and Fox News found itself playing host to those candidates night after night.

“Obviously, when we were running in the Republican primary, you make your focus Fox News,” said Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for Mr. Trump and current CNN analyst.

Mr. Trump was on Fox News far more often than any of his Republican rivals. A study by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters found the Republican nominee garnered more than twice as much airtime as his chief rival for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz.

“I do think Fox News helped Trump enormously,” said Rick Tyler, a former senior aide to Mr. Cruz and Newt Gingrich and currently a political analyst at MSNBC.

Some Republicans doubt that there will be any significant change to the network, at least in the near future. (Rupert Murdoch, who helped Mr. Ailes start Fox News 20 years ago, is taking over from him on an interim basis, a move partly intended as a signal that the network is not on the verge of a wide-ranging overhaul.)

“I don’t think it would change, because you’ve got to be responsible to the shareholders,” said Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate. “It makes money. It’s the No. 1 cable channel. Why fix it?”

Whether the language begins to soften or change, most candidates know that they can rely on the network’s connection with Republican voters.

“My bosses, whoever they have been, including Tim Pawlenty, Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio,” Mr. Conant, the Republican consultant, said, “the No. 1 comment they get on the campaign trail is ‘I saw you on Fox.’”

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