21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News spent tens of millions to first try and hide and then to clean up the multiple sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes leading up to his forced retirement in July 2016.
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Now every detail of the scandal is about to come to television in an eight-part miniseries on Showtime starring Academy Award winner Russell Crowe as Ailes, the founder and absolute boss of Fox for two decades, who CNN called the most powerful man in media in his day.
Ailes for many years was considered untouchable even in the sometimes chaotic world of Fox, where Murdoch and his sons would often battle over Ailes’ role and methods as he made Fox News the top-rated cable TV news outlet and wildly profitable by turning it into the mouthpiece for conservatives and the alt-right, laying the groundwork for the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency.
“The last year of his life could be his most historically significant: He saw the election of Donald Trump, a candidate his network had promoted and he personally had advised,” reported CNN Media after his death.
By the time Ailes died at age 77, almost a year after he was forced out of Fox, his legacy as the great political mastermind and the power behind the rise of Fox News was in tatters as a result of federal investigations and dozens of allegations against him for sexual harassment which led to numerous lawsuits.
This will be Crowe’s first foray into American television as he continues to make movies as well, most recently playing Henry Jekyll in a reboot of The Mummy.
Crowe won the Oscar as Best Actor for Gladiator (2000) and two more Academy Award nominations for The Insider (1999) and A Beautiful Mind (2000), making him one of only nine actors to ever earn three consecutive Oscar nominations.
A native of New Zealand (where he still holds citizenship), Crowe has spent most of his life living in Australia but now will take on a uniquely American character who rose from being a talk show producer for Merv Griffin to being considered the de facto head of the Republican Party because his influence was so pervasive.
According to the producers, including Jason Blum and Tom McCarthy, who won an Oscar as the writer of the powerful journalism movie Spotlight, the limited series will focus on Ailes’ final decade at Fox News, with flashbacks including his initial meeting with Richard Nixon, then a Merv Griffin guest, which led to Ailes’ policial career.
“Ailes became a senior adviser to Nixon’s campaign,” Fortune reported shortly after Ailes’ death, “and subsequently an adviser to other conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan. In right-wing political circles, he became known as ‘the dark prince of negative advertising.'”
After being fired by MSNBC, Ailes joined with Murdoch to create Fox News as an alternative to what they saw as the liberal bias of most news outlets at the time.
“No single individual has done more harm to American democracy in the last generation,” University of Georgia Media Studies Professor Jeffrey Jones, director of the prestigious Peabody Awards, told The Daily Beast in May 2017.
“He ushered in the post-truth society,” added Jones. “Through a constant drumbeat of fear, anger, and hatred, he turned citizen-on-citizen. He helped craft an enormous gulf of distrust between people and news.”
Fox News became a cult channel for disgruntled conservative Americans unhappy with the growth of diversity, multiculturalism, immigration and the election of Barack Obama.
“Told through multiple points of view” according to Deadline Hollywood, “the limited series aims to shed light on the psychology that drives the political process from the top down.”
Showtime, which is owned by CBS Inc., a Fox competitor, has been developing the miniseries for a year since acquiring rights to Gabriel Sherman’s bestselling book about Ailes, The Loudest Voice In The Room.
“In many ways, the collision between the media and politics has come to define the world we live in today,” David Nevins, President, and CEO, Showtime Networks, said in the announcement.
“We’ve seen this phenomenon depicted on screen as far back as the story of Charles Foster Kane,” continues Nevins, “and it finds contemporary embodiment in the rise and fall of Roger Ailes. With Russell Crowe in the lead role, this limited series promises to be a defining story for this era.”
Having it all rehashed in such a high profile way will certainly be a public relations nightmare for Fox News, which has undergone wrenching changes in its leadership and HR policies in the wake of Ailes’ scandal while retaining its conservative credibility.
There is no air date yet for the miniseries, although Entertainment Weekly says it is eyed for a 2019 release.
What is likely ahead next are casting announcements as actors are hired to portray Fox News personalities including Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rupert Murdoch (and sons James and Lachlan) and the accusers who include Megyn Kelly, Juliet Huddy, Greta Van Susteren and Gretchen Carlson, who reportedly received a $20 million settlement to settle her allegations against Ailes.
There are dozens of articles about the announcement of the Ailes miniseries on Showtime but there is no mention of it on Fox News, which has tried to paint over the founder’s many indiscretions and sins, especially since his death.
Now Showtime will blow it all up again into the public consciousness.
That will put Fox News in the hot seat again as the story of how its parent company – under Murdoch – favored Ailes for years over his critics and paid huge settlements behind the scenes in a desperate effort to cover up his serial sexual harassment actions before becoming a huge public scandal.