‘The Loud­est Voice’

How Roger Ailes changed ca­ble news and Amer­i­can pol­i­tics in Show­time’s

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Roger Ailes saw Fox News’ mis­sion as pro­vid­ing “a pos­i­tive mes­sage, an Amer­i­can mes­sage, wrapped up in a con­ser­va­tive view­point.” As his­tory tells us, he and the ca­blenet did a whole lot more.

The story of how Ailes molded Fox News into a me­dia powerhouse and in the process changed the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion in this coun­try is told in the Show­time lim­ited se­ries “The Loud­est Voice,” pre­mier­ing Sun­day, June 30. Un­der heavy makeup and pros­thet­ics, mus­cu­lar ac­tor Rus­sell Crowe (“Cin­derella Man,” “Gla­di­a­tor”) fairly dis­ap­pears into the skin of the ro­tund Ailes, who died in 2017 af­ter be­ing forced to re­sign from the net­work amid sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions, while Sienna Miller (“Fac­tory Girl”) is also un­rec­og­niz­able as Ailes’ wife Beth.

The se­ries fol­lows Ailes’ ste­ward­ship of Fox News af­ter be­ing hired in 1996 by News Corp chief Ru­pert Mur­doch (Si­mon McBur­ney, “The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing”), cre­at­ing a cor­po­rate cul­ture marked by in­tim­i­da­tion, para­noia and an us-ver­sus-the-out­side-world at­ti­tude. Among those un­der his com­mand are his PR guy Brian Lewis (Seth MacFar­lane, “The Orville”), who did Ailes’ dirty work; his as­sis­tant Judy Laterza (Aleksa Pal­ladino, “Board­walk Em­pire”) and his booker Lau­rie Luhn (Annabelle Wal­lis, “Peaky Blin­ders”), one of his lovers.

Crowe por­trays Ailes as a bril­liant mega­lo­ma­niac who abused em­ploy­ees, sex­u­ally ha­rassed women and had no tol­er­ance for any­thing left-lean­ing or po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. Con­versely, this fam­ily man from hum­ble be­gin­nings in the Rust Belt of Ohio wanted to make Amer­ica great again and he would use his pul­pit at Fox News to do it by any means nec­es­sary.

“Roger was like many in his era,” ex­plains di­rec­tor Kari Skog­land, “very en­ti­tled and em­pow­ered to abuse sit­u­a­tions and to abuse his power. And he ob­vi­ously took it into po­lit­i­cal are­nas and abused his abil­ity to sway the pub­lic. But hav­ing said that, I think he was the first to iden­tify the true power of tele­vi­sion in pol­i­tics, and I think we’re only just grap­pling with the truth of that now.”

Un­der Ailes’ di­rec­tion, ac­cord­ing to the se­ries, Fox News gave its au­di­ence what it wanted, ad­vanc­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries, phras­ing ac­cu­sa­tions against po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies as ques­tions and even co­or­di­nat­ing with the Bush White House to make its case for the Iraq War. It all made for big rat­ings but Ailes’ right wing fer­vor some­times drew Mur­doch’s ire when it clashed with his busi­ness prag­ma­tism.

Gabe Sher­man, on whose book “The Loud­est Voice in the Room” the se­ries is based, de­scribes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two men as “com­pli­cated.”

“(Mur­doch) was try­ing to forge al­liances with Democrats,” he ex­plains, “be­cause in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, it re­ally looked like the coun­try was shift­ing and Mur­doch wanted to be on the right side of that shift. And so him and Ailes got cross­ways over the elec­tion of Obama.

“And so it’s a very com­pet­i­tive re­la­tion­ship also,” he con­tin­ues. “Ailes re­ally saw him­self as the creator of Fox News and the visionary that gave life to the chan­nel, and Mur­doch, be­ing the bil­lion­aire me­dia mogul, also sees him­self as the au­thor of Fox News. So in many ways, these two larger-than-life fig­ures were very com­pet­i­tive with each other even though they worked to­gether. So it def­i­nitely is the stuff that makes for great tele­vi­sion, to see these two char­ac­ters kind of go at it.”

“The Loud­est Voice” pre­mieres Sun­day on Show­time.

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