Laurie Luhn & Roger Ailes' Relationship Was As Complicated In Real Life As It Is In The Loudest Voice
The Loudest Voice, a seven-part miniseries that premiered on Showtime June 30, is uncomfortable to watch — and that's the point. The show tracks media mogul Roger Ailes' life from 1995, when he founded Fox News, to his death in 2017. Ailes resigned from his position at Fox in 2016 following a slew of sexual misconduct allegations.
It's the show's third episode, "2008," when Ailes' predatory behavior emerges in full force. Much of the episode focuses on Ailes' treatment of former Fox booker Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis).
Until "2008," The Loudest Voice merely alluded to the nature of Ailes and Luhn's relationship with flashbacks to hotel hallways. The latest episode of The Loudest Voice actually goes into those hotel rooms — and it's not pretty. The real Luhn told New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman, who wrote Ailes' biography The Loudest Voice, that she was sexually harassed and "psychologically tortured" by Ailes for over two decades.
Luhn and Ailes's complicated relationship began in 1988, when they met at George H.W. Bush presidential campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. Luhn was 28-year-old former flight attendant looking to transition into politics; Ailes was a married Republican political strategist nearing 50.
In 1990, Luhn called Ailes asking for help finding a job. They met one evening in Washington, D.C.. Ailes kissed her and handed her a wad of cash; afterwards, he hired her to gather intel on other Republican strategists, like Roger Stone.
From that meeting on, their relationship intertwined sexual favors with professional perks. They regularly met in hotels, where Luhn would dance for and perform oral sex on Ailes. During those encounters, Ailes also manipulated Luhn mentally. According to Luhn, Ailes would hold her temples and say, “Tell me you will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. At any time, at any place when I call. No matter where I call you, no matter where you are. Do you understand? You will follow orders."
So when Ailes asked Luhn to leave her job as a legal aide at the lobbying firm Patton Boggs and come aboard his new venture at Fox in 1996, she said yes. Luhn worked as a bookings agent at Fox, eventually climbing the ranks to bookings director.
But they weren’t fooling anyone. Luhn and Ailes’ “quid pro quo” was an open secret within Fox. As of 2004, she was known by the nickname “FOR” within the company, which stood for “Friend of Roger’s.” She was “protected,” but she was really in danger of Ailes' manipulation. He isolated her from the world: “‘He’d say, ‘I’m your only friend. I’m the only person in the world that you can trust. You can’t trust anyone else.’ So you say that enough times to someone, and it’s reality,” Luhn told ABC 20/20.
Their relationship is rendered onscreen in The Loudest Voice. Mistress isn't the right word to describe what Luhn is to Ailes in The Loudest Voice, or in real life. It's more like plaything. Ailes bosses Luhn around constantly. He forces her to wear special lingerie ("the outfit," as he called it in real life and the show). He films her performing oral sex on him. He does not seem to notice — or care — that her expression is blank at best, miserable at worst the entire time they're together.
A callous person could argue that their sexual relationship, as it appears in the show, is consensual. Luhn willingly goes to Ailes' hotel room, just like she willingly accepts the gig at Fox in the miniseries' pilot. She says "yes" to Ailes — but it would be irresponsible to ignore the level of coercion at work that puts the word "yes" in her mouth.
"There was freedom of choice involved. She was a consenting adult. But Roger was using influence and his position to secure behavior and sexual favors. He was in a position to dangle carrots that people bought into, or felt they didn't get out of," Kari Skogland, who directed The Loudest Voice's first two episodes, told Refinery29 of their relationship. “She was trapped into something she felt she had to do.”
Their power dynamic is completely, dangerously skewed towards Ailes — Luhn's boss, who also happens to be one of the most powerful people in the world. If she falls out of favor with Ailes, he could, with no exaggeration, ruin her life. Imagine the possibilities: She could be fired and black-balled from future employment.
In 2016, the real Luhn told New York Magazine that her relationship with Ailes did, indeed, ruin her life. This episode of The Loudest Voice shows the start of Luhn’s mental deterioration, and spiral into paranoia — which, it turns out, was justified. Ailes was keeping tabs on Luhn through Fox’s connections and surveillance system. He also kept sexual photos of her as blackmail.
In 2010, Luhn moved to California. She got away from Ailes, but her mental health continued to deteriorate. She suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Eventually, she moved to Texas to be closer to her family. It wasn’t until 2011, over decades after they met, that Luhn reported the sexual harassment. Luhn settled with Fox for $3.5 million — and an extensive NDA preventing her from going to court against Fox.
While Luhn shared her story with New York Magazine in 2016, she was far from thrilled about her harrowing experiences being fictionalized. In January 2019, Luhn filed a suit against Showtime seeking $750 million in damages, accusing Showtime, the production company Blumhouse and journalist Sherman of “cashing in” on her torture. Luhn didn’t expect the 11 hours of audio interviews with Sherman to be used for other projects for which she wouldn’t be compensated.
Luhn’s lawsuit also claimed the show portrays her as being a “pimp” for Ailes. Indeed, the story becomes even more complicated when one considers Luhn’s own part in Ailes’ web of terror. As of 2006, Ailes instructed Luhn to bring young female Fox staffers to his office. According to the New York Magazine, Luhn “denied ever setting Ailes up with her staff for explicitly sexual purposes, but she did send them in for private meetings with him where she knew they could be exposed to sexual harassment.” The Loudest Voice does touch on this aspect of their "agreement" in the episode "2009."
As of June 28, Luhn dropped her suit against Showtime. Luhn initially spoke to outlets like ABC and New York Magazine because she wanted to share her story — now, it will be known by millions.
While Wallis did not work with Luhn for the role, she feels a connection and admiration toward her. “She paved a path for a conversation that’s happening now,” Wallis told The Hollywood Reporter. “She was at the pillar of a shift that had to happen so that we could get here now. I hope she knows her value in that, and that the things that happened to her, the harrowing things that she went through, she helped us on our journey to a better place.”