In life, Ailes was a controversial figure. He was beloved by many in the right-wing political sphere for bringing reactionary conservative thought to the mainstream, and he was also celebrated for his business acumen in turning Fox News into the top-rated cable news network. Meanwhile, most on the left reviled him for bringing reactionary conservative thought to the mainstream, his network's tenuous relationship with truth and for sexually harassing female employees for decades.
In July 2016, Ailes resigned his post as the CEO of Fox News after the harassment scandal spiraled beyond his control, and the public reactions to his death have been split along party lines.
Former President George H.W. Bush, for example, wrote that he owed a debt of gratitude to the former political consultant for helping to get him elected to the nation's highest office.
He wasn't perfect, but Roger Ailes was my friend & I loved him. Not sure I would have been President w/o his great talent, loyal help. RIP.— George Bush (@GeorgeHWBush) May 18, 2017
Fox News anchor Sean Hannity tweeted a multi-part tribute to the man he credits with making him who he is today, calling him a "true American original" and "one of [America's] great patriotic warriors."
Today America lost one of its great patriotic warriors. Roger Ailes. For Decades RA's has impacted American politics and media.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 18, 2017
Meanwhile, Gabriel Sherman, a journalist who has written extensively on Ailes and who recently sold a miniseries based on his reporting to Showtime called Secure and Hold: The Last Days of Roger Ailes, revealed that at least one of Ailes' sexual harassment victims believed his passing to be a form of "justice."
A Fox News employee who'd been sexually harassed by Ailes said this morning, "Justice."— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) May 18, 2017
Right-wing radio host Alex Jones publicly credited Ailes for pioneering the ultra-conservative media space that allows people like him to thrive.
Rodger Ailes Dead! RIP founder of modern talk radio and Fox News.. Say what you want but we stand on his shoulders. pic.twitter.com/SWcU1aLBP5— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) May 18, 2017
Many of the digital tributes to Ailes have been quite a bit sharper than such an occasion might usually call for.
"RIP Roger Ailes. The man may be gone but the sewer of misogyny, bigotry & lies that he midwifed still poisons the world." - Fox News💫— rob delaney (@robdelaney) May 18, 2017
Roger Ailes once threatened me that he had the rest of his life to get back at me for an article I wrote. Looks like he ran out of time.— Julia Angwin (@JuliaAngwin) May 18, 2017
Roger Ailes has died. Wow. Sending deep and heartfelt condolences to everyone who was abused, harassed, exploited, and unjustly fired by him— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) May 18, 2017
Even the reactions have gotten reactions.
Roger Ailes death, just like Justice Scalia's shows how the left has lost the moral high ground and doesn't really care about tolerance— Brian Waz (@BrianJWaz) May 18, 2017
And, in turn, those hot takes have inspired responses.
"Mocking Roger Ailes' death is disgraceful!" - the people who cheered when Hillary got pneumonia and joked about her dying every day— OhNoSheTwitnt (@OhNoSheTwitnt) May 18, 2017
In death, Roger Ailes has become a talking point for the kind of polarization and loathing he spent his career fomenting, a fitting legacy for one of the culture wars' biggest instigators.