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Fact Checking: 'The Loudest Voice' On Roger Ailes, Fox News, and the 2008 Obama Campaign

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 15, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 15, 2019 |


This week’s episode of Showtime’s The Loudest Voice jumped from 9/11 straight to the Obama campaign, and the pissing match between Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes over the direction of Fox News. Basically, Ailes was ready to go full nutjob conspiracy theorist, but Murdoch — knowing that Obama would likely become the next President — seemed to be hedging his bets, thinking that it was good for business to get cozy with the powers that be. Ultimately, Ailes put his foot down with an ultimatum: Either give him complete editorial control of Fox News, or he would bail. Murdoch blinked. After 2008, Fox News didn’t even bother to pretend it was “fair and balanced.” It went full birther.

There were also a lot of incredibly uncomfortable scenes this week between Aisles and Laurie Luhn, the former Fox News Channel employee who was a victim to Ailes’ sexual assault. She stated in a lawsuit that she “endured forced sex, blackmail and smear campaigns at the hands of Ailes to such an extent she contemplated suicide,” and we saw the forced sex in this episode and the beginning of the depression that would lead her to contemplate suicide. It was brutally uncomfortable. Ailes videotaped her while she glumly danced for him in lingerie. At one point, in a very discomfiting scene, Ailes complains to a morose Luhn about the power that Murdoch has over him, “He’s crossed the line, and he just expects me to sit there and take it? Can you imagine how that feels?” (To both his credit and his detriment, Russell Crowe is effectively gross as hell).

— Much of the episode was focused on the way that Roger Ailes injected his own racist, xenophobic worldview into his young son, Zachary Ailes, and guess what? It worked! Zachary Ailes is just as bad as his father now, and vowed — after Roger’s death — to get revenge on all of his accusers. “I want all the people who betrayed my father to know that I’m coming after them,” Zachary Ailes said during a speech at the ceremony, “and hell is coming with me.”

— While Ailes was sexually abusing his employees, he decided to come up with a project for his wife, Beth, to keep her preoccupied. In the show, he and Beth decide to buy the Putnam County News & Recorder, the local newspaper in the town in which they lived. It’s true that they did buy the Putnam County News, and they hired a stooge to run it, but the stooge quit after two years (and wrote a book about his experiences) because the Aileses forced him to abandon his journalistic standards, and they also had him tailed.

I fought vociferously to cover Putnam County politics vigorously, thoroughly, professionally. We did some great things, but near the end journalistic standards were violated. The boundaries of civility were broken at times. I believed in the nobility of journalism, until about a year later. There was incredible pettiness and so much venom, and I got caught up in that.

— Ailes insisted that Barack Obama was a Muslim, went to a Muslim school, etc., etc., and much of that made it onto the air even in 2008 when another Ailes stooge, Steve Doocy, helped to spread the “Madrassa Hoax.”

True or not, this bit of grade-school innuendo proved irresistible to Steve Doocy, know-it-all host of “Fox and Friends,” Roger Ailes’s idea for a right-wing morning chat show. Doocy garbled the story into a reference to Obama “spending the first decade of his life raised by a Muslim father.” After John Gibson of Fox repeated this yarn, which managed to slime two campaigns simultaneously, CNN dispatched a reporter to Obama’s old school in Jakarta, where he revealed it to be a normal public school with religion classes only once a week and no indication of Wahhabism, the Saudi-inspired extremist philosophy. (Indonesian schools were even more secular 40 years ago than they are today.) The whole underlying tale was untrue.

— On the show, Roger Ailes put a private investigator on Rupert Murdoch’s wife in an effort to smear her, because he believed that Wendi Deng Murdoch was responsible for Rupert Murdoch’s “globalist views” and his lack of hostility toward Obama. That’s true, according to a 2014 Gawker piece, which details an attempt by Ailes to plant a story in Gawker:

“What media mogul billionaire’s wife has been guilty of so many sexual escapades that she is the talk of LA?” It went on to claim that Wendi Deng, the then-wife of Rupert Murdoch, was a “vicious…hustler,” “licentious…whore,” and “nymphomaniac” whose “path to [Murdoch’s] board room and bed room is paved with betrayal, infidelity, adultery and continuous scandalous affairs.” While it didn’t directly name any men Deng was alleged to be carrying on with, the document said “the mogul’s wife is having an affair with an executive from the media moguls own company.”

Of course, since their divorce, Rupert Murdoch has also been guilty of smearing his wife — a close friend of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump — claiming that she is a Chinese spy (the bit about being a Chinese spy was imputed to Ailes in the series).

— As for the meeting between President Obama and Roger Ailes/Rupert Murdoch, that reportedly did happen, although we don’t know the details. Obama tried to be diplomatic with Fox News during his campaign and met with them, but neither Murdoch nor Ailes was receptive (the show suggests that Murdoch was receptive, but that Ailes worked around that by securing full editorial control of the channel).

— As for that speech that Ailes gave in his hometown of Warren, Ohio? That happened, too, although the speech itself was a Veteran’s Day speech not a screed against the loss of manufacturing jobs to workers in other countries. I very much doubt that he stated in that speech, “Together, we can make American great again.”

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: Showtime