Walking into the theater to see Bombshell — which recounts the high-profile sexual harassment cases that led to Roger Ailes’s ouster from Fox News — I felt a bit like a feline about to take in a showing of Cats. I was, after all, about to see a re-creation of the people and spaces that made up my work environment for the better part of two years.
I started at Fox Business Network as a producer in October 2013 and stayed until March 2015, when I left to work for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign (please clap). During my time there, I only met Roger Ailes once, very briefly, and my main takeaway from that interaction was that I was taller than him in heels. The facts of the harassment cases depicted in the movie are well-established, and I’ll let people more knowledgeable than me examine their portrayal on screen. What I can shed light on is how close screenwriter Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach — who also directed HBO’s adaptation of Game Change — hewed to reality regarding the culture and the everyday experience of working for the most polarizing brand in cable news. Join me, won’t you, as we separate the fair and balanced from the fake news in Bombshell.
Fair and balanced
There are liberals working at Fox News
I was halfway through my (first) bag of Raisinets when Kate McKinnon’s producer character revealed to a wide-eyed Margot Robbie that she is, in fact, a card-carrying Democrat with not one but two Hillary Clinton posters in her apartment. Robbie, playing an aspiring on-air talent, is shook by this revelation. Isn’t everyone who works at Fox News a Republican?
The answer, of course, is no. This comes as a surprise to most people, though it probably shouldn’t. On the team of about eight people I worked with at Fox Business, I would estimate that party affiliation was evenly split amongst Republicans and Democrats. So the next time you or a loved one is driven to a near fugue state by a segment on Tucker Carlson, know that it may have been produced by someone with a ‘Warren for President’ bumper sticker, not a red-meat, MAGA-hat-wearing Republican.
Obsession with appearance
The brightly colored, form-fitting dresses, the perfectly coiffed hair in varying shades of golden and honey — it’s all by design. The Fox News aesthetic is as consistent as it is rigorously enforced, and, similarly to how it plays out in the movie, these beauty standards have been known to cause some hurt feelings among the talent. I recall one instance in particular where the host of one of our sister shows was supposedly reduced to tears after being told by the powers that be that she looked like a sausage in the dress she had worn on-air that day.
Smile! You’re on camera
I think it’s Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly (more on that in a second) who first explains near the beginning of Bombshell that 1211 Sixth Avenue — the building that houses Fox News, Fox Business, the Wall Street Journal and News Corp is positively brimming with surveillance cameras. Not long before I started, the so-called ‘Fox News Mole’ was able to grab items off a company computer and leak them to the media, so security was especially tight. I was told within a week of being at Fox Business that I should assume everything I said or did in the building was on camera, beamed directly to Ailes’s personal feed.
Making grandma scared and grandpa angry
After Margot Robbie’s character bombs in her first O’Reilly Factor pitch meeting, Kate McKinnon’s more seasoned producer character gives her a particularly resonate piece of advice: pitch stories that would make your grandma scared or your grandpa angry. This, maybe more than anything else in the movie, was completely true of my time there, albeit in less sinister terms. In our morning rundown meetings, we frequently posed the question to each other, ‘Will Grandma and Grandpa Heartland care about this?’ If the answer was no, good luck getting your story on the air. The saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ exists for a reason.
Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly
I didn’t have a ton of interaction with Megyn Kelly, who had just moved to primetime when I arrived. But one particular instance will forever stick in my mind. I was rounding a corner when I smacked into something that felt like a mid-sized cement truck. As blinked back stars and wondered what the concussion protocol was for cable news producers, I looked up to see who or what I had smacked into, fully expecting to see that Lawrence Taylor (or at least Sean Hannity) had hit me with the truck stick. Instead, it was Megyn Kelly — all 105 pounds of her — who had defied physics and sent me reeling to the ground (note: she was very sweet about the whole thing).
Love her or loathe her, Kelly is a force of nature, and Theron brought that to bear in a way that makes me certain that we have developed the technology used in the movie Face/Off. Prove me wrong.
Stay in the closet
McKinnon’s character is gay — but she goes to great lengths to conceal her sexuality at work, where she fears it will hinder her career advancement. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are plenty of producers — many of whom work on high-profile shows — who are openly gay. They decorate their cubicles with pictures of their spouses, bring their partners to work events and speak openly about their relationships. Many of the anchors are outspoken supporters of the LGBTQ community. Though I am sure there are people who choose to keep their personal live private, the idea that it would be scandalous to be gay at Fox is false.
‘Some people are saying’
At some point in the movie, one producer advises another that if you can’t properly source your story, you can get by couching it with ‘some people are saying’. I can’t speak to whether this happened on other shows or in the past, but during my time at Fox Business, this was never an acceptable way to source a story. My anchor, Melissa Francis, was a razor-sharp Harvard grad with a degree in economics. She made sure properly researching stories was a point of emphasis among her team. Had you come to Melissa with a ‘some people are saying’, she would have politely but firmly told you to do better.
Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson
OK, fine, this one’s just a personal pet peeve. Gretchen Carlson’s show came on at the same time as mine, and I would frequently see her in the elevator after we had wrapped for the day. She was always lovely and polite, but the woman was not a hair over 5’3”. Nicole Kidman, by contrast, is roughly the size of an NBA point guard. Was Kirsten Dunst’s phone going straight to voicemail when they cast this thing?