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Tom Block: Roger Ailes, Fox News changed the landscape of American politics

In my political endeavors, one campaign I worked on was a 1980 Senate race and the media adviser was Roger Ailes.

An issue we had to deal with at the time was that all the major media news services were left of center. Our candidate was an unconventional candidate (Al D’Amato) who had won a surprising victory over the establishment candidate in the Republican primary – sound familiar?

In 1980 cable news was non-existent; in fact it was the year CNN was founded. News was a three network monopoly, and all three were perceived by Republicans as being left of center and favoring Democratic candidates. With the creation of Fox News, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch found a vacuum and filled it. There was no national television news outlet that covered the news from a right of center perspective at that time.

Roger Ailes (Wikimedia Photo)

Roger Ailes (Wikimedia Photo)

As cable news grew, and gave viewers more choices of where to get their news, many viewers stuck with the networks that shared their biases. If you are a center or left of center voter you have many choices for getting your news that includes the three traditional networks, and CNN and MSNBC. But if you are right of center there is only one news source that talks to you, Fox News Channel.

Fox, under Roger Ailes, became the principal place where Republican candidates can go and talk directly to their supporters. In politics, much money and resources are spent selecting the best media outlet to get your message out to your supporters. For Democrats this is tough work as they have, all three traditional networks news shows, and the cable news channels. For Republicans there is really only one source – Fox.

Roger Ailes, and his team at Fox, are literally able to set the agenda for Republican politicians. He and his reporters are open to ideas from conservative, Republican officials, but in the end they became the arbiters of what issues dominate the public discussion. If you get a warm smile from Sean Hannity, Megan Kelly, or Bill O’Reilly a candidate is on the path to at least a Republican nomination.

Perhaps the biggest advantage Fox gave to Republicans was the ability to focus their supporters on key messages.

For the left the three traditional networks, and their cable counterparts are in competition for the left of center viewer; therefore, they feature different stories. On the right, with the Fox News monopoly, one source is determining the news message for their followers. From repeal Obamacare, to the “war on coal,” each day a clear message is sent out and viewers expect their elected officials to follow the leader.

It is a powerful tool that has played a significant role in motivating Republican voters and undoubtedly helped Republicans capture control of the House and Senate, and aided Republican victories and State Capitals across the nation.

It is a remarkable legacy the Ailes leaves behind as he departs the Fox News Channel, as he quite literally changed the landscape of American politics.

Tom Block is a public policy consultant who had a 21-year career with JP Morgan Chase, where he served as head of government relations in New York City and created a Washington research product. He also created the bank’s EU Government Relations program and developed a new position as U.S. Government Policy Strategist focusing on how U.S. government policy impacts capital markets. He has an extensive government and banking background, has worked on political campaigns and as a speech writer. He currently works at Fundstrat Global Advisors as Washington Policy Strategist. He is a family trustee of Bernheim Arboretum in Louisville and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University. He and his wife make their home in Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to KyForward. Contact him at tomblockct@aol.com.

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