The True Story Behind Bombshell and the Fox News Sexual Harassment Scandal

CollegeUnified By CollegeUnified 7 Min Read

The film Bombshell, directed by Jay Roach and starring Allison Janney, Connie Britton, and Kate McKinnon, tells the true story of the s*xual harassment scandal that took down Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News and a kingmaker in the Republican Party. Ailes was an imposing personality who advised right-leaning politicians, including Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, and was said to employ fear tactics in running his business. Ex-employees have said he installed secret surveillance cameras around Fox News offices. In 2016, a s*xual harassment lawsuit brought against Ailes by former Fox journalist Gretchen Carlson kicked off an internal investigation at the news network and, eventually, a wave of s*xual harassment claims against Ailes. Megyn Kelly, at the time the rising star at the network, was among the women to report experiencing harassment at the hands of the network head. In total, more than 20 women accused Ailes, and he was forced to resign from his position in July of that year. He died a year later, at 77.

In Bombshell, Nicole Kidman plays Carlson, who largely watches and waits on the sidelines hoping that other women at Fox will bolster her credibility with their own claims. Charlize Theron plays Kelly, debating whether to risk the future of her career by coming forward with her own story. Margot Robbie plays a fictional character named Kayla who hopes to one day be a Fox TV anchor but faces harassment at the hands of Ailes (John Lithgow) and a culture of misogyny at the network.

Roger Ailes fundamentally changed the television landscape. He built Fox News into a juggernaut, averaging 2 million viewers a day, according to the New York Times. By the time Ailes left Fox News in 2016, the network was averaging 2 million viewers a day, more than CNN and MSNBC combined.

In 2016, former Fox & Friends cohost Gretchen Carlson accused Ailes of “severe and persistent s*xual harassment” and of tanking her career by docking her pay and moving her shows to lower-profile time slots after she refused his advances. Carlson said in her suit that when she confronted the Fox News head about his treatment of her, he responded, “I think you and I should have had a s*xual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Eventually, she was fired.

Ailes denied the accusations and claimed that he let go of Carlson because of her show’s poor ratings. When Carlson took her job at Fox News, she signed a non-disclosure agreement and a mandatory arbitration agreement that barred her from talking about her experiences publicly and forced her to take legal disputes into arbitration rather than to open court. As more women came forward with s*xual harassment claims against Ailes, O’Reilly, and other powerful men at Fox News, it became clear that dozens of women had experienced misogyny and worse at the network.

His sons Lachlan and James Murdoch accuse Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, of s*xual harassment in the film Bombshell. The brothers were attending the Sun Valley Conference when news of Carlson’s suit broke, prompting them to hire Paul Weiss to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations. The sons reportedly made the decision because they wanted to escape the spotlight following a phone-hacking scandal in Britain that had blown up in Rupert Murdoch’s face.

Ailes sought help from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was then acting as a legal consultant. Estrich, a feminist legal scholar, joined Ailes’ legal team and criticized the legal system’s approach to rape cases. She was a longtime personal friend of Ailes and often appeared as a talking head on Fox News, usually arguing the liberal side of a day’s given debate.

Beth Ailes, Roger Ailes’ wife, launched a campaign to protect her husband by contacting Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Fox News co-host, to marshal support at the network for the Fox News head. In the movie, Guilfoyle is portrayed distributing pro-Ailes t-shirts, demanding that women around the office put them on. Other women at Fox spoke out on Ailes’ behalf, including Greta Van Susteren (Anne Ramsay) and Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach), who both hosted their own shows on the network.

At least 20 women, including Megyn Kelly, came forward with stories of harassment at the hands of Ailes. One woman said that Ailes videotaped her and used the footage to blackmail her into pressuring other women into situations in which Ailes could harass them. Kelly met with the lawyers conducting the internal investigation and shared that Ailes had harassed her 10 years earlier.

Pressure mounted for Fox to fire Ailes, who resigned after 20 years at the network and became a personal advisor to Trump. He died after falling in his Florida home within a year of leaving Fox News. Ailes’ deputy Bill Shine (Mark Moses) and others at the network were accused of covering up the Fox News head’s misdeeds, and Shine was forced to resign. The wave of claims exposed systemic harassment at the network, and O’Reilly was also let go from the network.

The film features fictional characters Megyn Kelly and Jess (Kate McKinnon), Kayla, and Jess, who refuse to get involved in the matter for fear of being fired. The younger journalists are included in the story to show how the reign of terror affected the women who were less powerful than Megyn Kelly and other anchors at Fox, and how they were forced to decide between their blossoming careers and stepping forward to protect themselves and their colleagues.