Matt Taibbi's "obituary" of Ailes in Rolling Stone is unsparing:
He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America's vicious and bloodthirsty character.
We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we're that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.
Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans' worst fantasies about each other.
Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – "I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead," he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.
In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old "ring around the collar" ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.
So they tuned into Fox, which made ripping Hillary and other such overeducated, cosmopolitan, family-values-hating Satans a core part of its programming.
But invective, like drugs or tobacco or any other addictive property, is a product of diminishing returns. You have to continually up the ante to get people coming back. So Ailes and Fox over the years graduated from simply hammering Democratic politicians to making increasingly outlandish claims about an ever-expanding list of enemies.
Soon the villains weren't just in Washington, but under every rock, behind every corner. Immigrants were spilling over the borders. Grades were being denuded in schools by liberal teachers. Marriage was being expanded to gays today, perhaps animals tomorrow. ACORN was secretly rigging vote totals.
Hollywood, a lost paradise Middle America remembered as a place where smooth-talking guys and gals smoked cigarettes, gazed into each others' eyes and glorified small-town life and the military now became a sandbox for over-opinionated brats like Sean Penn, Matt Damon and Brangelina who used their fame to pal around with socialist dictators and lecture churchy old folks about their ignorance.
The Fox response was to hire an endless succession of blow-dried, shrieking dingbats like Laura Ingraham, author of Shut Up and Sing, who filled the daytime hours with rants about every conceivable cultural change being the product of an ongoing anti-American conspiracy. Ingraham even derided muffin tops as evidence of America's decaying values.
Ailes picked at all these scabs, and then when he ran out of real storylines to mine he invented some that didn't even exist. His Fox was instrumental in helping Donald Trump push the birther phenomenon into being, and elevated the practically nonexistent New Black Panthers to ISIS status, warning Republicans that these would-be multitudinous urban troublemakers were planning on bringing guns to the GOP convention.
The presidency of Donald Trump wouldn't have been possible had not Ailes raised a generation of viewers on these paranoid storylines. But the damage Ailes did wasn't limited to hardening and radicalizing conservative audiences.
Ailes trained Americans to shop for the news as a commodity. Not just on the right but across the political spectrum now, Americans have learned to view the news as a consumer product.
What most of us are buying when we tune in to this or that channel or read this or that newspaper is a reassuring take on the changes in the world that most frighten us. We buy the version of the world that pleases us and live in little bubbles where we get to nurse resentments all day long and no one ever tells us we're wrong about anything. Ailes invented those bubbles.
Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It's no surprise that a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.
It's not that Trump isn't or shouldn't be frightening. But it's conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia, cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust. The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars come pouring in, on both sides now.