Roger Ailes’s death comes at a time of turmoil in conservative journalism — turmoil caused in no small part by Ailes’s own success in making Fox News into a media-political juggernaut.
Charles Krauthammer, one of Fox’s commentators, jokes that Ailes saw the opportunity to serve a niche market of half the country. The point of the quip is that the major networks had a liberal outlook and millions of Americans wanted something else.
But Ailes also saw that what these Americans wanted wasn’t only or even primarily ideological conservatism, whether of the free-market or traditional-religious varieties. What they wanted was nationalism. My National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg, also a Fox commentator, made the point well in a 2004 column. During World War II, Ernie Pyle won the Pulitzer Prize while wearing a military uniform and writing from an unabashedly pro-American point of view. Decades later, distinguished journalists were debating whether it would be ethical to warn American troops about an impending attack. A lot of Americans preferred the older attitude, and a network where anchors saw no problem with wearing a flag pin was for them.