The uncomfortable scene comes from the recently released film “Bombshell,” but the story could have been told by many women at Fox News who said former chief executive Roger Ailes asked them the same question in his office.
“Turn around let me see your ass,” Juliet Huddy, a former Fox News host, recalled Ailes telling her in a video shared Thursday by Megyn Kelly after the women watched the movie together. Two other victims of harassment at Fox, Rudi Bakhtiar and Julie Zann, joined them to share their thoughts on the fictionalized drama about the scandal that upended their careers.
All four of the women said Ailes had asked them to twirl for him. Only Bakhtiar, a former Fox News correspondent, said she refused. Kelly recalled the humiliation she felt after Ailes asked her to spin for him.
“I remember feeling like, I put myself through school; I was offered partnership at Jones Day, one of the best law firms in the world; I argued before federal courts of appeal all over the nation. I came here, I’m covering the United States Supreme Court,” Kelly said. “And now he wants me to twirl, and I did it. If you don’t get how demeaning that is, I can’t help you.”
Sitting together in a dark theater for a private screening of the movie, the women tearfully watched as actors played out the life-altering moments of sexual harassment they endured at the television network. The conversation offered a rare, and very public, reflection of what victims of sexual harassment at the workplace are feeling as their #MeToo stories are adapted for the big screen and pop culture entertainment.
Throughout the video, Kelly read from journals she kept during her early days at Fox News, when she said she endured sexual advances from Ailes.
“I feel very much like the woman in cases I used to read, wanting it to stop but feeling powerless to ensure its end,” she wrote on Jan. 27, 2006, after an incident where Ailes allegedly tried to kiss her in his office. “I was in his office and we were hugging goodbye, and he kept holding my arms, looking into my eyes and then he kissed me on the lips. His lips were wet and he smelled like alcohol. So f------ awkward.”
Although Kelly kept her job at the right-leaning news channel, the other three women lost their jobs after reporting incidents of sexual harassment against the likes of former Fox News titans Ailes, anchor Brian Wilson and host Bill O’Reilly. All four women agreed the spin scene captured their experiences well. Still, they said, the film couldn’t capture the depth of their horror.
“It was worse than that,” said Zann, who worked as a Fox News producer and accused Ailes of sexual harassment, when asked for her immediate reaction to the film. She added that the movie “really let Roger off easy.”
Ailes, who died in 2017, left Fox News after former host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against him alleging he sabotaged her career after she refused to have sex with him. Twenty-five other women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Ailes. Fox News declined a request for comment.
Thursday’s discussion marks Kelly’s first public comments following the release of “Bombshell,” which has sparked disagreement among Fox News insiders over how accurately the movie portrayed the downfall of Ailes.
Kelly eventually left Fox to briefly host an hour of NBC’s “Today” show in 2017 before leaving amid poor ratings and a controversy involving allegations of racism and retaliation for her reporting on another sexual harassment scandal.
Kelly took a swipe at NBC in her reaction to “Bombshell,” while describing the fear of being fired for reporting sexual harassment. She said many women wonder: “What will it be like at the next place?”
“I can tell you, having gone from Fox to NBC, it’s going to be very much like the last place,” she said.
Bakhtiar, who had been at CNN before joining Fox News in 2006, said a scene where Wilson, the anchor, asks her to take him up to her hotel room “really happened that way.”
“That was the end of me,” Bakhtiar said. “As soon as I complained, I lost my job.”
All of the women had an emotional reaction to a scene where Margot Robbie’s character, Kayla, a composite representing several women at Fox News, blamed the fictionalized Kelly for not reporting the sexual harassment she experienced years before, leaving Ailes in a position to harass women for a decade.
“This is shameful because it’s unfactual and it’s victim shaming,” Zann said, speaking directly to Kelly. “You were a real support system.”
Although she agreed the scene wasn’t accurate, Kelly said she wouldn’t want to remove it from the film.
“The truth is that I’ve looked back on my own life, every moment from that moment forward, and I do wish I had done more,” Kelly said. “Even though I was powerless, even though it would have been a suicidal move career-wise. What if I had just said, ‘Screw it'?"
Kelly, who rose to become the most prominent and successful woman working on-air for Fox News, teared up as she considered how speaking up in 2006 when Ailes tried to kiss her might have altered the next 10 years at the company.
“What if I had thrown myself into the fire back then?” she said to Zann, who said she experienced almost the exact same harassment as Kelly several years later. “Maybe that wouldn’t have happened to you.”