Roger Ailes is back! This time played by Russell Crowe in this somewhat gratuitous cash-in miniseries. Hollywood just loves this story it seems. Whilst Crowe is physically ridiculously too attractive a human being to be Roger Ailes, even under prosthetics and hours of make-up, this glossy, high quality offering from Showtime is an excellent deeper dive into the day-to-day workings inside the Fox News machine from its very beginnings in the nineties, and from the ground up – deeper than we get from the movie ‘Bombshell’ which covers much of the same territory.
If they’re not careful, Hollywood producers will have turned the sexual predator Ailes into a tragic figure by the time they’ve finished, as each new production becomes more and more sympathetic and more and more like a eulogy. This series jumps into a different time period and bubble of events for each episode. Ep 1 covers the Network’s beginnings in 1994, Ep 2 covers the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and so on. Very surprisingly there is no coverage of the seismic, some say decisive, role Fox News played in the 2000 Presidential election, where the channel pre-emptively called Florida for George W Bush against all evidence to the contrary. This was perhaps the high water mark of Fox’s influence and it’s a shame we don’t get to see it in more detail.
The sexual harassment story is dealt with in a powerful and disturbing way, although it focuses mainly on only one of Ailes’s victims, Laurie Luhn. The real-life Luhn actually sued this production for her extremely negative portayal here, eventually settling out of court.
Overall this is a very well made series. Rusty eats up the scenery and clearly has a lot of fun being gleefully mendacious as the villain. He puts in an epic, heavyweight performance. Once again the window into the Murdoch media empire is one of the most interesting aspects of this riveting review of recent American history (for more on the Murdoch back story check out ‘Power Games’). The show presents Ailes’ contribution to White House propaganda and indeed to US foreign policy as a whole as being so influential during his 20+ years as Network chief that his toppling in 2016 comes across as having been, in the immortal words of George Dubbya, the ‘end of an error’.