Roger Ailes and the liberal myth of the conservative genius

What The Loudest Voice misses about the conservative machine

Russell Crowe.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Showtime, REUTERS/Fred Prouser, rashpil/iStock)

The Roger Ailes we see at the very beginning of Showtime's The Loudest Voice is already fully formed. First, we see him lying dead on his bathroom floor in 2017, speaking directly to the viewers and predicting how he will be remembered, in complete mastery of his narrative; a few seconds later, we flash back to see him negotiating his departure from NBC in 1996, in preparation, as we shortly learn, to forming Fox News for Rupert Murdoch. He already has a plan: a well-conceived theory of politics and media, a set of ideological axes to grind, and a media mogul to help him do it. But as the first episode brings Fox News from conception to birth, what's striking is how consistent he is, how unconflicted, determined, and resolute. Unlike Adam Mackay's 2018 Vice, for example — a more conventional biopic that shows us Dick Cheney's rise from youthful dissolution to national power — The Loudest Voice's Roger Ailes begins with a plan and then we see him make it into reality.

But what is the "it"? Although the seven-part miniseries charts the rise of Fox News against the eventual fall of its CEO, it's easier to be absorbed into the show's spectacle than to derive any particular insights from it. The miniseries is in love with its antihero — Russell Crowe's charisma rumbles powerfully through the prosthetics and makeup — and though I've only seen the first three episodes, I expect that his eventual downfall for sexual harassment and abuse will make good use of the character's layers of repulsion and attraction; his sexual advances are often crude and unwelcome — and his rage and cruelty in punishing subordinates is violent — but he's also a magnetic leader, with no shortage of devoted followers (of both genders). And yet the camera's infatuation with the character has a way of focusing the gaze on him to the exclusion of the rest of the world. In the first episode, we see Fox News as it was to him; in the second, we see 9/11 and the aftermath as he saw it; and in the third, we see the first year of Barack Obama's administration through Roger Ailes' eyes.

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Aaron Bady

Aaron Bady is a founding editor at Popula. He was an editor at The New Inquiry and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, Pacific Standard, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakland, California.