Before Roger Ailes, who died Thursday morning, founded Fox News, he was a major political operative for the Republican party.
An attack ad he crafted in 1988 is credited with having a major impact on George H.W. Bush’s win in that year’s presidential election.
Known as the “revolving door” advertisement, the spot shows men walking in and out of prison while a narrator accuses Democratic presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis of being soft on crime.
“As governor, Michael Dukakis vetoed mandatory sentences for drug dealers. He vetoed the death penalty. His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape,” the narrator says. “And many are still at large. Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he’s done for Massachusetts. America can’t afford that risk.”
In a 1988 CBS News/New York Times poll, voters picked the ad as the one that had the biggest effect on them that election cycle.
Susan Estrich, Dukakis’ campaign manager, said in a roundtable discussion that Ailes was also part of in December 1988 that she thought the ad (and the Bush campaign’s tactics in general) were “very much an issue about race and racial fear.”
“Whether it was so intended or not, the symbolism was very powerful,” she said. “It was, at least to my viewing of it, very strong — look, you can’t find a stronger metaphor, intended or not, for racial hatred in this country than a black man raping a white woman.”
In that conversation, Bush’s campaign manager Lee Atwater said that when they first shot that commercial, they used real prisoners, but on viewing it, he and Ailes “worried there were too many blacks in the prison scene, so we made sure that on the retake there were but one or two.”
Both Atwater and Ailes insisted the ad, and their campaign, wasn’t racially charged. Democrats disagreed.
In July 2016, Ailes resigned as the CEO and chairman of Fox News after 20 years at the network, following accusations of sexual harassment from several women at the company. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes earlier that month, and Megyn Kelly accused him of making unwanted sexual advances on her in a book released last year.
Ailes died at age 77 on Thursday after developing a blood clot last week following a fall.
Watch the ad below:
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