Per its title, Showtime’s The Loudest Voice is far from subtle. The seven-part miniseries, primarily adapted from onetime New York reporter Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 biography of late Fox News kingpin Roger Ailes and his two-decade-plus reign there, boasts a bravura performance from Russell Crowe as the divisive and eventually disgraced network exec. But he is merely one among several showy names populating the cast, including Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, Sienna Miller as Ailes’s wife, Beth, and Seth MacFarlane in a relatively dramatic turn as predatory PR man Brian Lewis.
As is increasingly the case with these real-life adaptations, audiences want to know: How closely did these actors’ dramatizations of their alter egos hew to the real thing? To help determine that, here’s a dossier detailing the veracity of their performances, covering the first five episodes (which span the events of 1995 through 2012), with updates to come as Loudest Voice quiets to a close.
Roger Ailes (Played by Russell Crowe)
The Roger Ailes seen in Loudest Voice is heavyset, histrionic, blindingly jingoistic and xenophobic, sexist, and — despite his success — simplistic in his worldview. He says, eats, grabs, and conquers what he wants (including, as alluded to in episode five, a failed stab at producing on Broadway) when he wants, because on some level he’s filling the hole bored into him by an abusive father, oppressive mother, and childhood spent struggling with hemophilia. In the miniseries’ telling, he not only defined Republican orthodoxy dating back to the mid-1990s but engineered Donald Trump’s presidential run and even coined the “Make America Great” slogan that has become the stuff of polarizing political legend. That, and it depicts him sexually brutalizing and/or harassing female employees including popular daytime host Gretchen Carlson and booker Linda Luhn as well as grooming a young conservative journalist named Joe Lindsley to be his propaganda puppet and loyal sycophant.
Sherman’s voluminous reporting on Ailes, along with testimony in court, via the media or even by way of self-published memoirs, supports both the finer points of Ailes’s upbringing and the broad strokes of his notoriously tyrannical behavior (if not the “MAGA” origin story). But the show also emphasizes the depths of Ailes’s paranoia and narcissism. Throughout Loudest Voice, he’s alarmed not merely at the possibility of terroristic infiltrations on our soil but specifically targeting him and his family and their palatial home in Garrison, New York. In one scene, his wife, Beth, gives Lindsley a tour of their estate’s underground survival bunker, complete with tunnel leading out to the Hudson River in case of emergency. In his book, Sherman gets no less than Ailes’s brother to confirm that some kind of secretive “panic room” did exist. And in a rival unauthorized bio, longtime Newsweek editor and Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter outlined how Ailes’s methods for mitigating intrusion included working from a supply closet when necessary, bombproofing his office, and hiring two personal bodyguards. Fittingly, he left a “memory box” behind for his young son, Zachary, that included a copy of The Art of War with an inscription that concluded, “Don’t try to win … win!”
Beth Ailes (Played by Sienna Miller)
Like her onscreen scene partner Crowe, Sienna Miller is caked with appearance-altering makeup to take on the affect of her muse, Beth Ailes (née Elizabeth Tilson). And also similar to Crowe, her main direction is to project an air of indefatigable social conservatism and borderline conspiracist mania about the state of America and traditional law and order. Mrs. Ailes did indeed meet Ailes during her tenure as a programming executive at CNBC, before ultimately putting her career on hold at Roger’s behest, eventually raising Zachary at the family’s West Point–adjacent compound and taking over as publisher at small-town sibling papers (though the show essentially consolidates them into one) Putnam County News & Recorder and Putnam County Courier. A New Yorker profile on the power couple asserts that Ailes envisioned it as his pet project in retirement, with Beth ultimately agreeing to step in when he reupped with Fox, a slight deviation from Loudest Voice’s assertion that Ailes brainstormed the takeover as a way to keep his wife content and bend local citizenry to their whim. (They would sell both publications to then-editor-in-chief Douglas Cunningham in 2016, and he remains in charge of them to this day.) Despite the accusations of sexual harassment and abuse leveled at her husband during the final months of his life, Beth issued a statement after his death remarking on what a “patriot” and “loyal friend” he had been.
Laurie Luhn (Played by Annabelle Wallis)
The trajectory of Luhn’s entanglement with Ailes in Loudest Voice tracks with her own account, i.e., 20 years of promotions and career opportunities in exchange for what amounted to sexual servitude. And she did suffer from a mental unraveling by 2007, though the trip Ailes enticed her back from was a vacation to Mexico, not a visit to her mother’s house in Mexico. (The several days holed up in a Manhattan hotel thereafter was, per Luhn’s telling to Sherman in 2016, a true occurrence.) Luhn has conceded that she did set up other potential female hires for meetings with Ailes, possibly exposing them to sexual harassment (though she insists it was not to explicitly set them up for a liaison). Luhn did eventually return to Texas, which is where she began seeing the therapist who convinced her to write a letter concerning Ailes’s abuse, though it was addressed to a network attorney, not directly to Roger per se. Fox never acknowledged a direct cause and effect of the letter and their subsequent payout, but Luhn did soon receive a
$3 million-plus settlement upon signing a nondisclosure agreement. Earlier this year, Luhn preemptively filed a lawsuit against Showtime, citing the expectation that it was going to defame her, particularly regarding her involvement in arranging for other women’s meetings with Ailes. The suit has since been dropped.
Gretchen Carlson (Played by Naomi Watts)
Carlson’s background as a former Miss America is widely known, as are the finer points of her parting ways with Fox News and leveling Ailes and the network with a sexual-harassment suit in 2016 that opened the door for his ultimate undoing. Regarding her 11 years as an anchor, host, and interviewer for Fox, Loudest Voice takes a few minor liberties with her history. The court records from Carlson’s own suit paint a picture of Ailes being even more cavalier, downgrading her scheduled appearances on other colleagues’ shows, outright firing — rather than simply reassigning — her from Fox & Friends (a move that was carefully finessed to the press at the time and smoothed over in Carlson’s first memoir), and consistently enabling her morning co-host Steve Doocy’s harassment. (The documents do include mention of Ailes ogling her figure, as is acted out in multiple scenes.) Loudest Voice also presents Carlson’s husband, sports agent Casey Close, as encouraging her to let Roger have his way unless she decides to quit, but in her post-lawsuit memoir, Be Fierce, she is unequivocal about having had his support. Having settled with Fox News for $20 million not long after filing suit, Carlson now hosts documentaries for Lifetime and A&E and runs a nonprofit focused on empowering women.
Brian Lewis (Played by Seth MacFarlane)
Journalists the likes of the late New York Times columnist David Carr have gone on record about how Lewis and the Fox News PR apparatus went about their business like voracious bulldogs. And as Loudest Voice contends, Lewis was an early and eager convert away from CNBC when Ailes came calling. A scene in which Lewis threatens a bumbling leaker may have been inspired by this actual, infamous instance of Lewis confronting and canning loose-lipped Fox employee Joe Muto in 2013. But the most compelling moment in Lewis’s arc is when he has a flash of conscience after discovering Ailes’s creation of a secret smear campaign against Sherman and other journalists, leading to Lewis’s exit and — as Loudest Voice depicts — spilling the beans on the whole boondoggle to Sherman out of spite. Officially, Fox News fired Lewis in July 2013 because of “financial irregularities” and breaches of contract. Whispers of Lewis losing his job over sharing intel with Sherman immediately ran rampant, though the show’s insertion of Lewis dialing Sherman the minute he left Fox HQ to speak his truth can be chalked up to quasi-redemptive storytelling. Lewis actually took pains to dismiss Sherman in his first post-sacking remarks to the media. And yes, avers Sherman’s book, Lewis did blast hip-hop from his office, though he was more partial to Westside Connection than Montell Jordan.
Judy Laterza (Played by Aleksa Palladino)
To this point in Loudest Voice, Laterza has been a quietly loyal assistant to Ailes, seeing everything but saying practically nothing, her judgments of everyone’s behavior almost inscrutable. Sometimes it’s as if we’re watching the events unfold through her eyes. At other moments it feels like we’re catching her bearing passive witness to — and possibly participating in — one heinous act after the next. In follow-up reporting to his book, Sherman spoke with sources who claim Laterza (who declined to comment to Sherman) actively played the part that Luhn presumed she’d be accused of in Loudest Voice: glorified sex-object recruiter. Laterza left the network several months after Ailes’s 2016 resignation. Roger was prone to rewarding fealty, and in July 1017, U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail alleged to have seen Ailes’s will, which purportedly set aside $30,000 for his loyal assistant.
Bill Shine (Played by Josh Stamberg)
Thanks to his tenure as President Trump’s communications director, Bill Shine has been elevated to household-name status. Prior to that notable career notch, he was known among members of the media as perhaps Ailes’s most dutiful sidekick (or as Brian Lewis preferred, according to Sherman’s book, Roger’s “toady”). We get glimpses into Shine’s ascent up Fox’s corporate ladder, which included stints as executive producer and executive vice-president of programming. Shine is shown to be especially instrumental in doing damage control when it came to inside and outside threats such as Laurie Luhn. In a 2018 interview with NPR, Sherman reiterated Luhn’s assertion that Shine went as far as having Luhn’s private communications monitored on Ailes’s behalf. And Shine would eventually be implicated in misappropriating company money to help cover up Ailes’s misdeeds. Shine denied the allegations, though he ultimately resigned from Fox in 2017, but not before leaving with a big fat severance, nearly triple what Ailes signed off on to keep Luhn quiet. Loudest Voice does attempt to humanize Shine by conveying his mixed feelings over Fox’s handling of real-time 9/11 coverage, though we could find no reporting on whether Ailes’s directives that day did indeed give him pause.
Rupert Murdoch (Played by Simon McBurney)
Of all the theoretical antagonists, Loudest Voice lets Rupert Murdoch skate by most unscathed. By and large, he’s sketched as a business-minded billionaire with little appetite for Ailes’s bluster but a prevailing yearning for profit. As to whether Murdoch was turned off by Ailes’s blitzkrieg against Obama, it’s worth clarifying that both the News Corp. head and Roger met with the would-be president in 2008 (the series would have it that Murdoch iced Ailes out of the sit-down altogether). Vanity Fair reported at the time that Murdoch stepped in as peacemaker to cool down tension between Ailes and Obama. Loudest Voice also posits that Murdoch was leery of Fox News becoming a political propaganda arm following 9/11, but reports circa 2002 claim Murdoch was very much in favor of Ailes cozying up to President Bush by way of back-channel Karl Rove (a relationship that the show does make a point to identify). Whether or not Murdoch outright cautioned Ailes to temper his hormonal impulses toward staff, he has since been rather blasé about his controversial hire’s antics, boiling it down as “all nonsense.” Ailes, however, definitely did not see eye to eye with Murdoch’s young scion, Lachlan.
Joe Lindsley (Played by Emory Cohen)
The very decision to dedicate so much screen time to Lindsley, the Aileses’ ill-fated appointee as Putnam County News & Recorder editor-in-chief and surrogate son, is an odd one. Everything about Lindsley’s ties to the family and its business, as well as his own insight into that period, is a bit erratic. In comments to the New Yorker in 2011, Lindsley comes off as far more of a calculating jerk than Loudest Voice — which shapes him as a passionate but novice conservative and reporter in over his head from jump — lets on. Strangely, Lindsley quit the paper that same year, and fellow Recorder staffers told Gawker that Ailes was using News Corp. resources to spy on Joe (something the show was a bit more elliptical about) and that he was at one point asked to check out the family’s house and confront a possible intruder when a burglar alarm went off. (Loudest Voice’s timing this on Election Night 2012 and intimating Roger tried to frame Lindsley for the crime was, apparently, dramatic license.) Joe gave a rare interview in 2017 to Politico to promote a quasi-memoir he was working on about his time with the Ailes clan, from which some episodic specifics—e.g., being lectured about God’s ineffectualness by Roger over midnight sandwiches — were cribbed. The good news for Joe? He got out from under Roger and Beth’s sway and quickly resurfaced managing a popular Celtic folk band (seriously!) And, God bless him, he’s still out there pushing that book.