Roger Ailes was the media magnate who founded the American pay television news channel, Fox News Channel. Before his resignation on July 21, 2016, he was the Chief Executive Officer and chairman of Fox Television Stations and Fox News that sparked the transformation of the cable television landscape.
From his achievements to his political ventures, there are plenty of ways to define Roger Ailes’s life. However, none does so more than his interpersonal relationships, particularly those involving women. From his marriages to the endless list of alleged sexual assault and harassment, they shaped his image to the rest of the world, and ultimately, brought the media titan down.
Roger Ailes’ First Wife was His College Girlfriend
The Fox News icon attended Ohio University between 1958 and 1962. Two years before graduation, he married his first wife and college girlfriend, Marjorie White. They met during his freshman years in college, with Roger studying radio and television while White studied art.
When they met, Marjorie White was engaged to Dave Chase, the manager of the student station, WOUB, where Roger worked at the time. After David left the station for WNBC and subsequently military duty with the Air Force, Roger and White grew closer. Eventually, they got married, despite the fact she was two years older than him and further along in college.
They married on August 27, 1960, at the Galbreath Chapel on the college campus. While Roger finished college, White worked as an art teacher at Nelsonville. After completing college, the young couple moved to Cleveland after Ailes secured a role as a production assistant for The Mike Douglas Show at KYW-TV.
As he went on an astronomical rise at the station, going from production assistant to executive producer within seven years, it affected his marriage. He spent much of his time at work, and it got worse after he became a media advisor and image consultant for Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968.
Roger Ailes spent weeks on the road, and he worked eighteen hours a day on the campaign. His work forced the couple to move again, to Pennsylvania. In late 1969, he moved to Manhattan, leaving Marjorie White behind. At this time, although there were still legally married, they were considered practically separated.
Eight years after Roger moved to New York, Marjorie officially filed for a divorce. The couple finalized their divorce on April 22, 1977, and she kept the couple’s Pennsylvania home. Marjorie also never remarried until her death on April 20, 2013. The couple never shared any children.
His Second Marriage to Norma Ferrer, a Single Mother of Two, Lasted 14 Years
Although they were never the bastions of a model union, Roger Ailes’ marriages had a common thread of longevity. His first marriage to Marjorie White lasted 17 years and his second to Norma Ferrer lasted 14. Although he dated the singer and actress, Kelly Garrett, while separated from his wife, it never went anywhere.
In 1977, he began another relationship with Norma Ferrer, a single mother of two he met in Florida while working on a campaign in Miami. Their relationship was equally professional as it was romantic. He named her a producer on the musical, Present Tense, one of many Roger worked on at the time.
Before they met, she was a television producer for Mission Media Ministries. After their marriage, she became his right hand at Ailes Communications. After four years of dating, Roger and Norma Ferrer got married in 1981 and lived in New York City and Croton-on-Hudson.
Despite its good beginnings, their marriage eventually suffered the same problem that led to his first marriage. He returned to political consultancy in the 70s, working on the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush.
His work on the latter particularly put a strain on their marriage, notably telling Newsweek in an interview that his wife says he will get destroyed eventually. Although the end of his boisterous career would come much later, his marriage ended a few years after. Norma filed for divorce in September 1994, and they finalized it in 1995.
The Third Marriage to Elizabeth Tilson Lasted Until His Death
Of all his wives, Elizabeth Tilson is the one with the most public recognition, gained for several reasons. She was his wife when he grew further into the spotlight and was at the centre with him during his history-changing sexual assault scandal. She is also the mother of his only child.
Roger Ailes and Elizabeth Tilson met when he oversaw CNBC as president of the news network, and she was a programming executive. He was reportedly attracted to her for a few reasons, one of which was her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.
They got married after a couple of years of dating in 1998, in a modest ceremony officiated by then-Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, at New York City Hall. Two years after they got married, Roger and Elizabeth welcomed their only child, Zachary. Unlike his previous marriages, Roger and Elizabeth were deeply involved in the media industry.
While he became the CEO of Fox News after leaving CNBC in 1996, Elizabeth was Vice President of Programming at America’s Talking, now known as MSNBC. About a decade into their marriage, they bought two local newspapers, Putnam County Courier, Putnam Country News and Recorder.
Elizabeth served as owner and publisher until she sold them in 2016, six months after the sexual assault bombshell that brought an end to her husband’s career. She remained married to him until his death in May 2018 and has kept a quiet public presence while living in the family’s Florida home ever since.
A Lifelong Battle with Hemophilia Led to Roger Ailes’ Death
At the age of two, shortly after he learned how to walk, Roger Ailes fell and bit his tongue. His parents were unable to stop the bleeding of the seemingly small cut. After the rushed him to Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Roger and his parents learned of a battle he will face throughout his life – he has hemophilia. This genetic condition prevents the body’s blood to clot.
Learning about the condition meant Roger and his parents spent extra time and care to keep him out of trouble, especially those that could lead to cuts and bruises. His condition kept him in the hospital for several days, and he spent a lot of time at home away from school. It meant Roger spent a lot of time watching television, a medium he grew fascinated by and eventually became its master.
The advancement of knowledge and medicine in the field kept Ailes alive for years, until May 10, 2017, when he fell and hit his head at his Palm Beach, Florida home. After eight years in the hospital, he died on May 18, three days before his 77th birthday at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
According to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner, he died of ‘subdural hematoma, aggravated by hemophilia.’ To keep Fox News from breaking the news, his wife, Elizabeth, emailed the development to Matt Drudge at The Drudge Report. They buried him on May 20, 2017, in a patriotic ceremony.
In attendance at the funeral were Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and others. They had glowing positive remarks about the former Fox News president, despite the barrage of sexual assault charges that forced his exit from the news network.
More Than 20 Women Accused Roger Ailes of Sexual Harassment
After famously helping three candidates, including President Donald Trump Jr, to the White House, it took allegations of sexual assault and harassment from over 20 women to end Roger Ailes’ career. Although the allegations finally found solid ground in 2016, they began in 2014. The first public allegation came via the book, The Loudest Voice In The Room: How The Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – And Divided A Country, written by Gabriel Sherman.
In the book, he alleged that in the 80s, Ailes offered a television producer a raise if he would sleep with him. In defense of Roger, Fox News denied the allegation and criticized the authenticity of the book.
However, in July 2016, Roger’s sexual assault made front-page news again. Former Fox News anchor, Gretchen Carlson, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the then-Fox News president. The lawsuit sparked a wave of allegations from more than a dozen female employees at 21st Century Fox.
Of the over 20 women that spoke out, two women, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly became the face of a scandal that has now been made into a movie, Bombshell, and a show, The Loudest Voice.
Roger Allegedly Fired Gretchen Carlson After Turning Down His Advances
The woman who sparked the avalanche that destroyed Roger’s career, Gretchen Carlson, was a popular Fox News personality who joined the network in 2005. Four years after she began appearing on Fox and Friends, she reported pervasive sexist treatment from her co-host, Steve Doocy to Ailes.
In return, Ailes called her a man-hater and asked her to ‘get along with the boys.’ His casual dismissal of her complaint turned out to be the start of several sexual harassment from Ailes himself. According to her, Roger repeatedly made sexist remarks, including asking her to turn around to view her posterior.
A defining turn in the barrage of harassment came in 2015 after Ailes allegedly asked her to have a sexual relationship with him. After declining his advances, Ailes sabotaged her career. He underpaid her, gave her fewer assignments, fired her from Fox & Friends, and refused to renew her contract after its expiration in 2016.
Armed with a year-long recording of her conversations with Ailes, Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit on July 6, 2016, lighting the match on one of the biggest scandals of modern American history.
Megyn Kelly Admitted Ailes Made Unwanted Advances at Her Too
If Gretchen’s lawsuit lit the match, Megyn’s admission of Ailes’ predatory behaviour gave it everlasting fuel. Considered at the time to be the network’s biggest star, Kelly was notably silent for weeks as other women came out sharing their experiences with the Fox New president.
However, that changed on July 19, 2016. New York Magazine reported that she had told in-house investigators of the allegations that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances towards her when she was a young correspondent for the network in 2006. The report claimed Kelly described the harassment in detail, forcing the network’s owners into a tight spot.
Later in November 2016, she released a book about the details of the harassment. According to her, Ailes had private meetings with her during which he made several sexual remarks and repeatedly tried to kiss her. Although she was never as vocal as other women, Megyn refused to defend Roger Ailes, even after 21st Century Fox pressured her to do so.
Aside from Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, other women who spoke out against Ailes include:
- Laurie Luhn – claimed Ailes psychologically tortured her for 20 years after she agreed to career opportunities in exchange for sexual favours. She claimed he made her perform sadomasochistic sex on other women. He also made her dress up, dance, kneel, and had her perform oral sex on him.
- Andra Tantaros – said she was taken off the air in April 2016 after complaining about harassment from Ailes and four male Fox News colleagues.
- Rudi Bakhtiar – claimed Ailes harassed her during her 2005 job interview. He asked her to stand up so he could see her legs. She also said management pressured her to wear miniskirts on air. She got fired after complaining of sexual harassment from Brian Wilson, then-Fox News Washington Bureau Chief.
Other names include Shelley Ross (former producer), Kellie Boyle, Marsha Callahan, Randi Harrison, and several other women who chose to stay anonymous.
As a consequence for the Allegations, Fox News Fired Roger Ailes and Paid Him $40 Million
Roger was unable to weather the barrage of allegations, although several people came to his defence, including his wife. Elizabeth Ailes reportedly suggested Fox News PR team should release racy photos of Kelly to discredit her. With the mountain of evidence at Gretchen’s disposal and discoveries by an internal investigation, the Murdochs decided to let Ailes go.
On the advice of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, Lachlan and James, Roger Ailes was encouraged to resign from the network. On July 21, 2016, Ailes resigned from Fox News and received $40 million in exit agreement. To resolve the allegations made against Ailes and the network, Fox News also paid several million dollars in out-of-court settlements.
Gretchen Carlson was paid $20 million and received a public apology from Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox. Over the next year, the company spent an additional $70 million to settle other lawsuits brought against Ailes and the Fox, bringing the total settlement tied to the scandal to $90 million.
Following his resignation from Fox, Roger Ailes worked on the Donald Trump Campaign as an adviser. He also continued to advise Rupert Murdoch and the company until his death.