Roger Ailes is dead at age 77. He was sick for a long time. Not long after he was ousted from Fox News in disgrace I saw him at lunchtime in Michael’s restaurant, the media “cafeteria.” I think it was his farewell public appearance. He and his wife had been given the best table, in the front corner. It was hard to believe that this little titan whom I’d worked for for over a decade looked so diminished. He was clearly not well.
Throughout the lunch no one else in the restaurant got up and spoke to him, not even Fox personality Jeanine Pirro– who he’d invented after she stopped being the Westchester prosecutor. It had to be explained to actor Michael Caine, who was at the next table, who Roger was. As the restaurant filled up, people came and went, and no one said a word. They just went about their business until finally the Aileses got up and left. It was if he was already a ghost.
There will be a lot written and said about Roger all day. Was he crazy? Yeah, like a fox. He hired me, and then a decade later he fired me without cause. We had ten good years and one really bad day. The ten good years were really good, though. We had a nice relationship. We met in his office on the 2nd floor quite a lot, sometimes just to gossip about Hollywood and people we knew. People we both liked: Warren Beatty, Liz Smith, Matt Drudge.
Roger really appreciated my Michael Jackson coverage, and was supportive of FoxNews.com. That was pretty prescient of him. He’d had hired a staff to create the network’s website and put resources into at a very early stage. I was hired as the online gossip columnist. After a year this enormous enterprise went bust, and a few us were drafted into Fox News. George W. Bush was president, and politically things were fairly calm. It was Roger who put me– a journalist with a face for radio, as they used to say– on television right away. The rest is history.
Is there bad stuff? Lots of it. But today we’ll just think of Roger Ailes as an evil genius. Before we really knew how had he was, he was pretty good.