Fox News and its founder Roger Ailes have always trafficked in high drama, so it was only a matter of time until Hollywood turned its lens on the story. Two versions of Ailes’ life hit the screen soon, with a new television mini-series debuting this weekend, and a splashy biopic coming out just in time for awards season–and the Murdoch empire isn’t happy.
The Loudest Voice, based on the much-heralded 2014 biography of Roger Ailes penned by reporter Gabriel Sherman, debuts on Showtime on June 30. It promises to provide a deep-dive on the harassment, political manipulation, and on-air hysteria of Ailes’ tenure at Fox News to a broader audience.
Russell Crowe portrays Ailes, who, along with Rupert Murdoch, founded Fox News in 1996. Sienna Miller plays Ailes’ long-suffering wife. Rounding out the cast, Naomi Watts plays Gretchen Carlson, the Fox anchor who sued Ailes for sexual harassment.
Her very public lawsuit would bring to light the millions of dollars Fox had paid to other women Ailes preyed upon, and the culture of toxic masculinity at Fox News. Carlson alone got a payout of $20 million. Ailes was forced to resign in 2016–albeit with a payout of $40 million dollars–and died in disgrace a year later.
The real-life Gretchen Carlson attended Showtime’s New York premiere of the series, where she told Vulture that she was not allowed to actively contribute or participate in the production, due to a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Fox. Of Watts’ portrayal of her, Carlson said, “I’ve heard that she did a tremendous amount of research on me, read my books, and really wanted to do the role justice. I’m honored.”
Later this year, Lionsgate will release their own Roger Ailes movie, tentatively titled, Fair and Balanced. Opening in wide release on December 20–timing that suggests producers are expecting serious Oscar noms–this version stars Jon Lithgow as Ailes, Nicole Kidman as Carlson, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, and Margot Robbie as a fictional character based on a composite of several other Ailes accusers.
The arrival of double Ailes projects this year is no accident. Interest in Fox News is high at the moment, with the 2020 election kicking into high gear, and Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan assuming the top role of the channel. The younger Murdoch has a reputation for being less conservative than his father, which could signal a shift in what appears on-air.
Fox News anchors like Shep Smith and Chris Wallace are said by some observers to be dialing down the partisanship; the channel recently reported on polling data which projected Donald Trump losing to several Democratic candidates in head-to-head election match-ups, a break with Fox News tradition.
“No one at Fox wants to be associated with Roger Ailes anymore,” says a former Fox News producer on condition of anonymity. “Lachlan is trying to make Fox News become more credible. That’s why some of Fox’s anchors are straying from Trump all of a sudden.”
Sources inside Fox News tell Los Angeles that Lachlan Murdoch and his dad would prefer to sweep both The Loudest Voice and Fair and Balanced under the carpet. It’s expected that the unflattering works will be downplayed across the News Corp media empire, which also includes the New York Post and Wall Street Journal.
Regardless of how News Corp approaches coverage, it seems unlikely that many Fox News viewers or Trump loyalists would opt to watch either of the projects–and no matter how biting the on-screen portrayals, they may do little to move the ratings needle at Fox News.
“Liberals at large will watch the show and report on the pure evil of Roger Ailes and his ultra-conservative ambitions–and the horrible effect he’s had on American government over four decades,” the Fox producer shares. “But few Fox News viewers are going to watch it. No Trump supporters. So really, in the end, it’s embarrassing for Fox News and the Murdochs, but Fox News will probably not suffer for it.”
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