Bombshell movie true story: The Fox News scandal the film is based on explained

Megan C. Hills
Lionsgate

A new trailer has dropped for the hotly anticipated movie Bombshell. With a star-studded cast including Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, the film is set to focus on a sexual harassment scandal that rocked media empire Fox News, coming to a head in 2016.

The first major film adaptation to focus on the scandal, Bombshell follows miniseries The Loudest Voice, based on a biography about the late disgraced Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes called The Loudest Voice in the Room.

The miniseries starred Russell Crowe as Ailes and centred on the rise of the Fox News network through to the sexual harassment claims and his eventual ousting from the network.

Bombshell appears to bring the focus back to his female victims and their battle to bring the media titan to justice.

The film’s synopsis reads, “Bombshell is a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time; Fox News, and the explosive story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created it.”

Who do Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman play in Bombshell?

Theron and Kidman play two women who have previously accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment - former Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson respectively.

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Robbie plays a new fictional character named Kayla Popsisil, a Fox News associate producer who in the trailer is seen going to the network’s now infamous second floor.

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The cast will also include heavyweights such as Allison Janney, Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and Ashley Greene.

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Ailes will be played by John Lithgow and the film will be directed by Trumbo’s Jay Roach.

Is Bombshell based on a true story?

Roger Ailes (Getty Images)

Bombshell is based on the true events of the Fox News scandal that saw multiple women allege they had been sexually harassed by former Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes.

Although allegations of sexual misconduct against Ailes date back to 2014 in the book The Loudest Voice in the Room, the film appears to focus on 2016, when news anchor Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman) brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. Megyn Kelly (played by Charlize Theron) who would also go on to accuse Ailes of similar behaviour in 2016, also appears to be a prominent figure in the film.

The film does appear to have included some fictional twists, as Robbie’s character Kayla Popsisil was not part of the allegations.

Who is Roger Ailes?

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Roger Ailes was the former CEO and chairman of Fox News. He was hired by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1996 to build the conservative network from the ground up. After working there for twenty years, Ailes resigned in 2016 following a slew of sexual harassment allegations made against him.

Over the course of his Fox News tenure, the Ohio-born media executive would coin two of the network’s mottos: “Fair and balanced” as well as “We report. You decide.”

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Fox would later go on to hire the likes of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly (who has been at the centre of sexual harassment lawsuits that have been settled out of court to the tune of millions) and anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson.

By the time he left, The New York Times claimed that Fox News “had an average daily viewership of 2 million, more than CNN and the left-leaning MSNBC combined”.

Prior to Fox News, Ailes was also a media consultant with his own firm and advised the likes of presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush as well as senators Mitch McConnell and Rudy Giuliani over the course of their political campaigns.

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According to The New Yorker, Ailes is said to have invited Donald Trump to guest on Fox News’ ‘Fox and Friends’ segment and is said to be a close friend of Trump’s.

The New Yorker also claimed that Ailes “gave Trump political tips during the primaries”, with sources alleging that Ailes had gone as far as to tip off Trump about anchor Megyn Kelly’s explosive question at a Republican Debate in Cleveland. (Kelly asked Trump, “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’. You once told a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect President?” Trump interrupted her to say “only Rosie O’Donnell”, but later answered that “the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”)

The New York Times continued that Ailes advised the Trump presidential campaign and reportedly helped Trump prepare for debates - however Trump claimed to the New York Times “I’ll speak with Roger, but this is not a formal thing. I don’t have a debate coach. I’ve never had a debate coach.”

Ailes, who suffered from haemophilia, died in 2017 at the age of 77 when he fell, struck his head and passed away of a subdural hematoma.

What allegations did Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and Laurie Luhn make against Roger Ailes?

Gretchen Carlson

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Carlson is one of the most prominent figures in the Fox News scandal, as her lawsuit kickstarted the tidal wave of sexual assault allegations against Roger Ailes that would follow.

After joining Fox News in 2005, she claimed in a lawsuit filed in 2016 that Ailes had “unlawfully retaliated” against her after “she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment”.

Gabriel Sherman, the author of The Loudest Voice in the Room, also revealed in an article that Carlson recorded her meetings with Ailes secretly on an iPhone.

Carlson claimed that after she had complained about the “sexist and condescending behaviour” as well as “severe and pervasive sexual harassment” allegedly at the hands of her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, Ailes reportedly “retaliated against Carlson and damaged her career” by blocking her from high profile interviews and dialling down her screentime - eventually firing her from Fox & Friends.

The suit also claimed that Ailes “injected sexual and/or sexist comments and innuendo into their conversations,'' which included “asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior”, “commenting repeatedly about Carlson’s legs” and “urging her to wear [certain outfits that enhanced Carlson’s figure] every day”.

Carlson, who was a former Miss America, also alleged that Ailes would publicly embarrass her by “stating to others in her presence that he had ‘slept’ with three former Miss Americas but not with her”.

Carlson presenting at the 2010 Miss America pageant (Getty Images)

The most damning allegation that Carlson made against Ailes related to a meeting in September 2015, in which she “sought to bring an end to the retaliatory and discriminatory treatment she had endured”. According to the suit, Ailes is said to have told her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”

He is also said to have stated in that meeting “sometimes problems are easier to solve that way”.

At the time, Fox News said in response to the Doocy and Ailes allegations, “The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”

Carlson on Fox & Friends with Steve Doocy (left) and Brian Kilmeade (Getty Images)

Doocy has never responded to or acknowledged the allegations. To this day, he continues to work for Fox News as a host on Fox & Friends.

Ailes responded initially by claiming the “allegations are false”, however just days afterwards New York Magazine published a report in which six more women accused Ailes of sexual harassment - with some stories dating back to the 60s. (Ailes denied the claims.) Two weeks after Carlson’s suit was filed, he resigned as Chairman and CEO of Fox News and subsequently received £32 million in severance pay.

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Two months after the suit was filed, Fox settled with Carlson out of court, paying her $20 million. It additionally issued a public apology which read, “21st Century Fox is pleased to announce that it has settled Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit. During her tenure at Fox News, Gretchen exhibited the highest standards of journalism and professionalism. She developed a loyal audience and was a daily source of information for many Americans.”

“We are proud that she was part of the Fox News team,” the statement continued, “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”

Megyn Kelly

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Although Megyn Kelly did not file a lawsuit against Ailes, she would later claim in her memoir Settle for More that she had been sexually harassed by the former Fox News Chairman and CEO over the years. In the book, she detailed exchanges in which he would make “obviously inappropriate sexually charged comments” which included telling her “about ‘the very sexy bras’ I must have and how he’d like to see me in them” as well as intimidating her not to tell anybody about his conduct with her.

She described one particular encounter in detail, writing how he tried to kiss her three times on the lips in his office before she eventually managed to escape. She wrote, “Roger called me up to New York and we had a shocking exchange. I was nervous about going into his office, concerned he might start in again. Sure enough he did. And then he crossed a new line — trying to grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips.”

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Ailes responded via his attorney Susan Estrich to her allegations and said in a statement to People, “I categorically deny the allegations Megyn Kelly makes about me. I worked tirelessly to promote and advance her career, as Megyn herself admitted to Charlie Rose. Watch that interview and then decide for yourself. My attorneys have restricted me from commenting further — so suffice it to say that no good deed goes unpunished.”

Laurie Luhn

Laurie Luhn with Bill Hemmer (Getty Images)

Laurie Luhn was one of the many women who spoke to New York Magazine about being sexually harassed by Roger Ailes. Speaking to ABC, she said that she “went through such hell for so many years” and decided to come forward with her story after she “saw that other women were speaking up”.

Her allegations predate Ailes’ tenure at Fox, as she encountered him when they were both working on President George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign. After Bush won, she later worked as a freelancer for him at his media consulting firm Ailes Communications and that he later took her out for dinner, then kissed her and gave her money afterwards.

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Ailes would allegedly go on to invite Luhn to his hotel room under the premise of “training” in 1991, where she was told to wear lingerie that The Cut claimed Ailes had instructed her to buy as her “uniform”. He later asked her to dance in the lingerie and filmed her, then she recalled he told her, “Tell me you will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. At any time, at any place when I call. No matter where I call you, no matter where you are. Do you understand? You will follow orders.

Luhn claimed that Ailes had her perform oral sex on him and then later blackmailed her with the footage of her dancing in lingerie, reportedly saying to her that he was “going to put it in a safe-deposit box just so we understand each other”. Following that, Luhn said Ailes continued to have sexual encounters and became more demanding after she was promoted at Fox News as a booker, claiming that he “demanded that she engage in sadomasochistic sex with another woman” and took photographs of the encounter.

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Luhn would go on to claim in 2010/2011 to Fox lawyer Dianne Brandi that she had been sexually harassed by Ailes over the course of 20 years, which would see her settle out of court with the network for $3.15 million. Despite signing an NDA as part of the settlement, she opened up to The Cut about the situation and said, “I am reporting sexual harassment. Whether I am a crazy person or not, I am reporting sexual harassment.”

When does Bombshell come out?

According to IMDB, Bombshell is set to be released on December 20, 2019 in the United States.