The Loudest Voice, a seven-part miniseries that premiered on Showtime June 30, turns recent history into a drama. Very recent history. Roger Ailes died in 2017, but we’re still living in the world he helped create. Ailes molded Fox News into the conservative mouthpiece it is today.
Most of the show’s characters will already be familiar. Russell Crowe in hours’ worth of prosthetics plays Roger Ailes; Simon McBurney plays the Australian media titan Rupert Murdoch. We’ve heard their stories. But it’s the show’s women — like Gretchen Carlson (Naomi Watts) — whose voices will especially be amplified, because it’s the women who ultimately toppled Ailes. They're the loudest voice.
Before his death in 2017, over 20 women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Ailes (he denied the claims). The Loudest Voice shows the vast distance between Ailes’ public and private personas. Here’s what you need to know about Ailes and his public downfall before tuning in on Sundays.
The Loudest Voice is based on an unauthorized biography by Gabriel Sherman.
Before Gabriel Sherman's book The Loudest Voice in the Room in 2014, not much was known about Ailes’ private behavior.
Ailes’ career, on the other hand, was far more out in the open. Born in Ohio in 1940, Ailes began working for TV stations in Cleveland and Philadelphia in the early '60s. At the age of 27, when he worked for Richard Nixon’s 1967 campaign, Ailes established himself as a formidable political strategist. After advising the Reagan and Bush administrations, Ailes switched to media in 1993 and became the president of CNBC.
It took 614 interviews (many of them off the record, for fear of retribution), and enduring threats and spying from Ailes, for Sherman to expose Ailes’ character and enormous influence in the unauthorized biography. Notably, the book contained an incident in which Ailes behaved inappropriately toward a female executive. Sherman’s reporting wasn’t over. Come 2016, when former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against Ailes, Sherman would be back on the Ailes beat. Sherman also was involved in The Loudest Voice.
Along with Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes launched Fox News in 1996.
“At Fox, we aim to be objective,” Roger Ailes, played by Russell Crowe, says in the pilot of Showtime’s The Loudest Voice. At this early point in the show, Rupert Murdoch has just announced his latest venture: A 24/7 news network spearheaded by Ailes.
But the line is supposed to sound ironic to our 2019 ears. Fox News? Objective? Hah! Now, Fox News is often criticized for embedding conservative bias into its reporting — and Ailes himself was the mastermind behind this bias.
Ailes wanted to program directly to a conservative niche, who he viewed as unserved by other news channels. “Every other news service has a left wing bent. They’re playing to a liberal elite. We’ll let them all battle out for that half. And we’ll own the other half,” Ailes says in the pilot of The Loudest Voice.
Enter: Gretchen Carlson, who joined Fox News in 2006.
Gretchen Carlson was a 1989 Miss America and longtime broadcast journalist. She played the violin. She graduated from Stanford. And eventually, she would become the woman who took down Roger Ailes.
In 2006, Carlson joined Fox as a co-host on Fox and Friends, the network’s morning show. After eight years on Fox and Friends, she moved to her own midday show, The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson was fired from Fox on June 23, 2016. She sued Ailes for sexual harassment and wrongful termination on July 6.
According to her lawsuit, Carlson was fired for continually rejecting Ailes’ come-ons. Allegedly, Ailes would frequently comment on Carlson’s body and instruct her to wear certain outfits that complimented her figure. He called her a “man hater.” He said he’d slept with three other Miss Americas, but not her.
Carlson had the receipts. Beginning in 2014, Carlson started to record her conversations with Ailes to capture his characteristic comments. That’s how she got him saying this on tape: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you'd be good and better, and I'd be good and better.” Carlson’s suit also named Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy as creating a hostile work environment.
“[Ailes] was the most powerful man in media,” Carlson said on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in October 2017. “It was an excruciating choice. But in the end I did it for all the women across America who have faced similar indignities.”
Ailes swiftly denied the charges.
The same day Carlson filed the lawsuit, Ailes issued a statement claiming the allegations were false: "Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, Fox News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11-year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously."
But in the coming days, many more women would come forward with stories of their own.
Former Fox booker Laurie Luhn, played by Annabelle Wallis in The Loudest Voice, told Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine that she experienced 20 years of sexual harassment and “psychological torture” at the hands of Ailes.
Ailes denied all claims.
Ailes was forced to resign from Fox News in July 2016.
Ailes, his wife Elizabeth, and their son Zachary relocated to Florida – with his $40 million settlement in tow.
In September 2016, Fox settles with Carlson.
Fox paid Carlson $20 million to end her lawsuit with Roger Ailes. The network also offered a public apology: "We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”
Carlson was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2017.
Carlson’s book Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back was published on October 17, 2017, two weeks after the Harvey Weinstein expose was published in the New York Times. She continues to be an advocate for women.
Ailes died in May of 2017.
Ailes died a year later of a subarteral hematoma exacerbated by his hemophilia. His life and legacy will be reexamined in Showtime's The Loudest Voice and an upcoming star-studded film, still unnamed.