Television

The Loudest Voice Turns Roger Ailes into a Cartoon

There was a lot more to the Fox News boss than just vicious villainy.

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The Loudest Voice. Showtime. Sunday, June 30, 10 p.m.

Fox News boss Roger Ailes was once reminiscing about his early show-biz career as a producer on the old talk-variety Mike Douglas Showwhich, he said required more delicacy than you might imagine. For instance, one afternoon the show's bookers had scheduled onto the same show Richard Nixon and an exotic dancer who worked with a boa constrictor. Ailes had to hunt up separate green rooms for each. "I didn't want to scare Nixon," he said, "or the snake."

That Ailes—irreverent, funny and charming—does not appear in the Showtime miniseries The Loudest Voice, an account of his rise and fall at Fox News. The Loudest Voice's Ailes is a conniving, lying, backstabbing, and relentlessly priapic son of a bitch. It is impossible to believe anybody ever worked with him for longer than 10 minutes, and it is even more impossible to believe that any Showtime viewers are going to spend seven hours watching him.

The show is based on the 2014 book The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Countrywhich the New York Times called "disingenuous" and suggested "may set a record for blind items and the untrustworthiness they engender."

To be fair, the book did offer the very first reporting on Ailes' profligate sexual misbehavior. And the stories that author Gabriel Sherman wrote for New York magazine two years later as Ailes' Fox News empire crumbled under a tidal wave of sexual harassment suits were better sourced and almost entirely verified by events.

But the Ailes conjured in Sherman's book and in Showtime's series (played with fiendish delight by a bellowing, blustering Russell Crowe with the same zeal with which he throws telephones at errant hotel concierges) is utterly one-dimensional, like something Nancy Pelosi might have dreamed after a triple-anchovy pizza.

If he's not feeling up a job applicant, he's placing secret phone calls from phone booths to Dick Cheney to cook up a disinformational recipe for war in Iraq. Or he's whispering malign sweet-talk in the ear of a job candidate: "You're a trained killer. You're an assassin. And I know that for a fact because I'm the guy who trained you." And news, schmooz, it's just TV. "It's all the same—news, talk shows, English fucking bulldogs, it's all the same," Ailes declares to a senior producer.

Some of this is unquestionably true. Ailes, if he wasn't quite as flippant about journalism as Crowe's character, certainly believed TV news had to be entertaining, and hired a cast of brassy tabloid personalities like Geraldo Rivera, Bill O'Reilly, and Shep Smith to punch his network up. (None of these men appear in the first three hours of The Loudest Voice, and the queen of the Fox News attack blondes, Megyn Kelly, apparently isn't in the show at all.)

And the rank sexual side of Ailes' personality is fairly portrayed, too. Some of the targets of his aggressive advances—notably including Fox New daytime host Gretchen Carlson—covertly taped them, and Fox News at last word had paid out $45 million to settle their suits.

The political elements of The Loudest Voice, though, are much more thinly documented if at all. If there's any evidence of Ailes creeping around New York alleys to plot genocide with Cheney, I haven't seen it. The war in Iraq was not brought about by Fox News but by a delusional U.S. intelligence community that declared the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad a "slam dunk."

More fundamentally, though, Roger Ailes was simply a more interesting man than the one you see on screen in The Loudest Voice. He brought ideological diversity to television news. (If you think it wasn't politicized before Fox News came along, you must never have seen Dan Rather.) Yes, he put Sean Hannity on TV, but also Charles Krauthammer.

He practically invented the job of political image consulting as part of the Nixon campaign in 1968, and he wrote one of the great campaign wisecracks of all time when he got 73-year-old Ronald Reagan to promise, at the beginning of a 1984 presidential debate with 56-year-old Walter Mondale, that "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Reagan and Nixon were his friends, but so were Barbara Walters and Susan Estrich. View Ailes' life as an exercise in personal and political villainy, if you will; but it's a fascinating one. The Loudest Voice is merely repellent.

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  1. is this surprising to anyone? Republicans never get a complex look.

    1. I don’t get why it’s so important for progs to repeatedly say “Well, this utter moron beat the shit out of us”

      Downplaying your opposition does not do a thing to build you up.

  2. it is even more impossible to believe that any Showtime viewers are going to spend seven hours watching him.

    Give me a break, this is better than porn for left wingers.

    1. People will get out of control without their 7 hours of Hate.

  3. I’ve seen a few trailers for this pop up and Roger Ailes is played so bombastically evil that the show looks like a dystopian science fiction show. There was a movie made in 2002, Max, about the relationship between an art dealer and a certain young artist. That movie made HITLER more sympathetic than this caricature. No person this shallowly evil exists in a real world, only in sleazy direct-to-video movies from the 1980s.

    And they’re going to claim this is a true story, of course.

    1. And Roger Ailes was a hero. If for nothing else than bringing so much apoplexy to progtards.

  4. If you think it wasn’t politicized before Fox News came along, you must never have seen Dan Rather.

    And that, for the movie’s audience, is precisely why they’ll tune in. Because, Roger Ailes could have been a bona fide saint and they would still hate him from the depth of their souls. Launching Fox News was, for them, an unforgivable sin. Fox News damaged the Establishment Left’s monopoly on the public narrative.
    I’m old enough to remember when, in response to conservative complaints about media bias, some progressives would snark, “Well, you guys claim to believe in the free market so much. Why don’t you start your own news outlets.” And that’s what Ailes effectively did. Not even that conservative a news outlet. The best available data out there shows that Fox is about as biased right as the major media are biased left. But, it was part (in addition to talk radio and the internet) of what set about the demise of the progressive news media consensus, which the left has been trying to rebuild for a couple of decades.

    1. Dan Rather?

      Fuck Walter Cronkite was a hack.

  5. Is this an Aaron Sorkin joint?

    1. There’s an easy way to tell. If the show is replete with stratospherically self righteous monologues and a tough female character named/nicknamed ‘Mac’ then it is clearly written by Sorkin.

  6. I don’t like Ailes, but no excuse for this movie to be lying about him. I saw the preview (unfortunately) and it looks like nothing more than a cheap hit piece by people ignorant of the subject matter.

  7. ” Yes, he put Sean Hannity on TV, but also Charles Krauthammer.”

    ISean Hannity is supposed to offset the awfulness of Krauthammer?

  8. I always look to Showtime for Fair and Balanced takes on anyone to the right of Hank Moody

    1. Hollywood tried to go after Reagan a couple of times but the public wasn’t having any of it. The first was cancelled from network tv and buried on some cable station. The last was supposed to be a comedy about Reagan with Alzheimers starring Will Ferrell.

      They did 2 tv shows and a movie directly about Bush and several indirect concerning Cheney, Rathergate and Valerie Plame. In the meantime anything involving the Clintons will never get made and they come with their own laugh track.

      1. An honest take on Reagan could be a pretty interesting story.

        It’s weird how much hate people retain for Reagan (and Thatcher in the UK). I don’t think either of them is anything near perfect, but they did some important shit that (arguably) needed to be done. Particularly in turning around the economic malaise of the 70s. Of course, there was also massive increases in deficit spending. But the Cold War was no joke either.

      2. Yeah, that cancelled Reagan project surfaced on………………………………..Showtime

      3. “In the meantime anything involving the Clintons will never get made”

        Veep.
        They had to lie about it to the HBO execs of course.
        Armando Ianucci is the man

  9. Sounds like it was tailor made for the Rachel Madcow crowd.

    1. Bitter communist isn’t bulldykes?

  10. The horrible thing about Showtime was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

    Showtime is playing with fire and they don’t even understand that fire burns. One day these corporate ideologues are going to find themselves on the business end on the cultural revolution they’re currently pushing.

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