As Roger Ailes was on his death bed his wife Elizabeth’s last words to him were ‘I forgive you’ and though he couldn’t respond, his eyes filled with tears.
The final moments between the controversial Fox News founder and his wife prior to his death in May 2017 at the age of 77 are featured in a new film on Ailes’ life entitled Man in the Arena, which was released last week.
Unlike film Bombshell and TV series The Loudest Voice, both of which were highly critical of Ailes, the new film seeks to glorify his life and career – from ditch-digging to TV to political consulting.
Narrated by Oscar-winning actor John Voight, who was a close friend of Ailes, and in Ailes’s own words, the film paints him as an underdog who was the driving force behind the election of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.
The film also tries to defend him against claims of sexual harrassment by 23 women which ultimately saw him forced from the network in 2016 – a year before he died.
Among those defending him are wife Elizabeth, who says: ‘I believe in forgiveness. And I think the world has forgotten how to be compassionate.’
However, Elizabeth also admits knowing of one affair that Ailes had, adding: ‘He was sorrowful and sought forgiveness. Those were dark days.’
Elizabeth also opened up about the day of her husband’s death on May 18, 2017 where Ailes, who suffered from hemophilia, a medical condition in which the body is impaired by its ability to produce blood clots, fell in the bathroom and hit his head.
Paramedics asked Ailes if he knew who was president and he did not.
‘I started to cry because I realized that was a very bad sign. A man who had elected three presidents wasn’t remembering who was currently president,’ Elizabeth said.
In the moments before he was wheeled into surgery she shared her last words to her husband of 19 years.
‘Roger. We need you. Please come back to us. Please come back. I forgive you,’ she said, weeping in the documentary.
‘A big tear rolled down his cheek, so I knew he could hear me.’
Filmmaker Michael Barnes, an attorney who met Ailes in 2011 when he was thinking about leaving Fox to found his own network, said he was inspired to make the movie after feeling that previous portrayals were unfair to Ailes.
Bombshell, which won an Oscar for best hair and makeup, depicted Ailes as a misogynist who insisted the desks at Fox News be clear so that viewers could see the female anchor’s legs.
It also shows him harassing a fictional reporter named Kayla – played by Margot Robbie – by asking her to show him her underwear.
Miniseries The Loudest Voice also shows an Ailes who is dogged by harassment claims – which eventually bring him down and tarnish his legacy.
In real life, Ailes’s accusers were led by Gretchen Carlson, a long-serving Fox anchor who came forward to accuse him of persistently harassing her during her time at the network, after she was dropped in 2016.
Carlson claimed that Ailes told her they ‘should have had a sexual relationship’, and consistently commented on her legs and posterior.
When she pushed back against Ailes and others at the network who were allegedly harassing her, Carlson claims the network boss sabotaged her career by underpaying her, giving her less-serious assignments, and ultimately firing her.
Carlson – who settled with Fox for $20million – opened the floodgates for other women at Fox to come forward and accused Ailes of similar treatment.
Among them was Megyn Kelly, then the network’s rising star before defecting to NBC in 2018, and Laurie Luhn – who detailed what she called ’20 years of psychological torture’ at Alies’s hands, which included sadomasochistic sex sessions.
Facing a total of 23 accusers, Ailes was forced to step down from the network he founded and shaped over the course of two decades.
He died the following year after falling and hitting his head in the bathroom of his home. He suffered from hemophilia, a condition which stops the blood from clotting, and which caused complications after his fall.
The new film begins with another occasion in which Ailes’s hemophilia almost killed him – aged eight, when he bit his tongue and doctors struggled to stop the bleeding.
The film plays out Ailes’ path from a ditch-digger to landing his first major job on TV on the The Mike Douglas Show to running Fox News as CEO in 1996.
The modest $200,000-budget movie includes interviews with a slew of Ailes’ political links including President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Bill O’Reilly and family members.
In the trailer Trump says: ‘What Roger Ailes did was create somewhat of a miracle, and that’s called Fox News.
‘Roger really opened up a world that nobody else was able to capture … I’m not sure that I ever would have been standing at this very powerful, important, even sacred spot: the Rose Garden in front of the Oval Office at the White House if it wasn’t for Roger,’ he added.
Voight, an outspoken conservative in Hollywood, met Ailes 15 years ago at a dinner party and the two remained close friends, even through his sexual misconduct scandal.
‘I got to know him as a straight-shooter. When I called, he picked up the phone, and I was honored to have that kind of relationship with him,’ Voight said.
‘The media always portrays Roger negatively and it was important for me to show him as the wonderful man he was. The only thing I can say about those other portraits of him is that they’re wrong. It’s very important that people see Roger speak for himself,’ he added.
In the 2016 scandal Ailes was accused of offering raises and opportunities to women who would sleep with him and was accused of firing Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson when she rebuffed his advances.
Megyn Kelly, a former anchor at Fox News, was one of the women who came forward to accuse of him of sexually inapprorpriate comments and conduct. She said Ailes made ‘unwanted sexual advances toward her’ at the start of her career.
He resigned after those claims in 2016 and became an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign where he helped with debate preparation.
‘I had no opportunity to share my side on this…I am not guilty of the charges,’ Ailes said in the trailer for the movie.
‘People tried to taint him, and I’m on Roger’s side. He told it like it was his entire life and I have no doubt he told the truth at the end when he said he wasn’t a participant in all that,’ Voight said on the sexual misconduct scandal.
Barnes, who has never directed a film before but has raised funding for 200 movies and handled the sale of several film studios, said he was inspired to create his new work after a conversation with Elizabeth Ailes.
She gave him access to Ailes’s archive of audio and video tape, which he spent four months digitizing, before cutting it into the documentary.
The movie also features interviews with Fox News star Bill O’Reilly – who was recruited by Ailes before being hounded out amid more sexual harassment claims – Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Elizabeth features in the documentary herself, alongside several other members of Ailes’s family.
Several Fox News insiders also helped to make the film, and are credited under pen-names to hide their identities for fear of reprisals from Ailes’s critics.
Speaking abut the film, Barnes said; ‘I watched the treatment of Roger in the press and it seemed one-sided.
‘Given his stature and accomplishments, it seemed like another side wasn’t being told. That piqued my interest.’
He added the movie was made in secret.
‘We didn’t want to be attacked by Roger’s enemies.’
Man in the Arena was originally set to debut at the White House then open to 50 theaters nationwide, insiders say, but coronavirus forced a change of plans.
Instead, the movie was released on to Amazon Prime on Friday last week, and will roll out to other online outlets after that.