The Loudest Voice

By

Leonard Zwelling

He was Trump before there was Trump. He understood the power of the media and he also understood that most mainstream media was not speaking to a large portion of the American people. He was Roger Ailes and he invented Fox News.

The Showtime original seven-part miniseries The Loudest Voice depicts the events that were the origin of Fox News, the most watched cable news network, how Ailes almost single-handedly built it with the backing of Rupert Murdoch, and how Ailes’ contentious relationship with many women, but most particularly with Gretchen Carlson eventually led to his fall from grace and dismissal from Fox News. He died shortly thereafter.

In one of the most amazing transformations in the history of screen acting, surely right up there with Christian Bales’ portrayal of Dick Cheney in Vice, Russell Crowe becomes Ailes. He is fat, lumbering, gross and perverse. He treats men badly and women even worse and he does this with the support of his wife Beth (Sienna Miller). Naomi Watts is Carlson.

Although the events that led to the rise and fall of Ailes are in themselves of great interest and the series does a great job of intercutting actual TV footage with the actors and sets, the real story is that of the realization by Ailes first and Trump later of how the great swath of America felt left out of the political process. The thoughts of the Trump supporters were not echoed on CNN or MSNBC, but they were on Fox. Ailes understood that the liberals in New York and California, may agree with the talking heads on those other networks, but he was going to create a network for the rest of America and then he used that network to support Donald Trump even as Trump took Fox on at times. And Ailes kept that network and the content of its broadcasts under his tight control.

Ailes fully recognized that Trump was a reality TV star and a showman, before he was a politician and that when applying those talents against the standard political behavior of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Trump could defeat them handily. And he did.

The Showtime series is a study in banal evil, for if Ailes was anything he was a self-centered egomaniac and narcissist who really believed that he was Fox News and that the network could not exist without him even as he became an embarrassment to the Murdochs and they had to let Ailes go. If there is a hero in the story it’s Carlson who just wants to be a TV journalist without having to become the concubine of Ailes, but that’s not how Roger played it and eventually she taped their conversations and it was those tapes that led to a $20 million settlement for Carlson even as her replacement, Megan Kelly, got crossways with Donald Trump in the run-up to his election.

TV and politics were both exercises in power to Ailes and he was not going to allow anything between him and his goal of getting another Republican in the White House after Barack Obama’s two terms.

Ailes was the birth of the modern Republican Party. He was a white, male, Christian, heterosexual, bigot who was a misogynist above all else and an nativist American with little use for immigrants or minorities. He embodied what has become Republicanism long before Donald Trump mastered the articulation of the philosophy—if you can call it that.

If you want to understand the current political climate, this is a great dramatic depiction of where we came from, how we got here and where exactly it is we are. The acting is first-rate and the scripts based on Gabrielle Sherman’s articles and book are tight and engrossing. This is a great series. I will be surprised if it is not frequently mentioned around Emmy time.

Leonard Zwelling