Bombshell A Needed Reminder of Fox News Perfidy


BOMBSHELL (2019/20)

Directed by Jay Roach

Lionsgate, 109 minutes, R (language, adult situations)



Conservatives spin it nine ways to Sunday, but Fox News in America’s Pravda. At best it is schtick pretending to be investigative journalism. Neo-fascists such as Pat Buchanan, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly have gotten away with outrageous antics by banking on the assumption that the majority of its viewers will not differentiate between objectivity and accusation. It’s also a place where women are hired for shapely legs, not their knowledge of current affairs.


Sexism is the one thing that has pumped the brakes at Fox. Bombshell uses quasi-documentary storytelling to recount how it felled Fox CEO/chairman Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and O’Reilly in 2016. The movie focuses on two of the Miss Americas hired by Fox: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Bombshell has a few serious craters, but it lifts the veil on a media machine fueled by manufactured outrage, piggish males, and fear.


The Fox house of cards began to wobble after Carlson was fired in 2013, though the Bombshell narrative centers more on Kelly. This is partly because Carlson’s contract stipulated that she could not sue the network, so she instead had to bring suit against Ailes for sexual harassment. For a time, she was a lone crusader; others lacked the courage to admit that had been fondled, ogled, degraded, or pressured into sexual encounters with Ailes. Most feared dismissal and knew that, with rare exceptions, Fox News was a dead-end job that destroyed one’s journalistic credibility.


Everyone, though, has limits. Kelly found herself branded disloyal when she dared push candidate Donald Trump on numerous allegations of sexual impropriety. In 2016, few understood the depth of Trump’s perfidy or thuggish tactics. You might recall that Trump counterpunched with remarks implying that Kelly was leaking blood from her vagina and thus suffering from menstrual hysteria. One wonders what would have happened had Trump the intelligence to put down the gloves when he was ahead, or if Ailes had stopped behaving like a 75-year-old horny teenager. Eventually, Kelly also joined the lawsuit, though she knew it meant her Fox career was over. But not even owner Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell)­­­—nobody’s idea of a shrinking violet—could ignore the allegations and, in 2016, he canned Ailes and O’Reilly. 


I wish the makers of Bombshell had stuck to the ugly facts and kept their focus. The film’s documentary style involved re-creating the newsroom. It is overstuffed with characters—nearly 50 in total—which means that other nasty creatures such as Susan Estrich, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Hannity, Abby Huntsman, O’Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, Bill Shine, Chris Wallace, and Murdoch’s sons have roles that are little more than creepy cameos. A more curious decision was to introduce two fictional main characters: Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) and Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon). Pospisil is an ambitious evangelical who wants to advance the “Jesus agenda” for Fox, and Carr is an O’Reilly Factor staffer who is both a closeted liberal supporter of Hillary Clinton and a closeted lesbian who beds the not-exactly-by-the-Bible Pospisil (who is also an Ailes victim). Allegedly, both women are Fox News composites who don’t wish to come public. If so, why put them in the movie in the first place?


Rudy Giuliani (Richard Kind) also delivers an on-screen rant. He gets no sympathy from me but, in truth, he played no part in the Ailes/O’Reilly debacle. Unless you ascribe to the view–and I do not–that it’s okay to lie to takedown liars, it is inexcusable to fictionalize just to give Robbie a juicy part or take a gratuitous swipe at Giuliani. It is also a disservice to those 23 women brave enough to subject themselves to the further indignation of public scrutiny.


Theron is very good as Kelly, whom she serves up as equal parts icy, savvy, and conflicted. Despite star power such as Theron, Kidman, and Robbie, though, John Lithgow steals the movie. He is positively chilling in depicting Ailes as an amoral and chilling predator who believed himself too powerful to challenge. I also admired the decision not to lionize anyone at Fox. We come away disgusted by Ailes and O’Reilly, but Bombshell is also a portrait of those who valued money, celebrity, and power over truth, morality, or decency­– predators and victims alike. Sexual harassment is always wrong, but victimhood alone does not someone honorable.


 It is, though, hard to get past two hard-to-swallow ironies. Fox paid its harassment victims $50 million in settlements, but shelled out $65 million to buyout Ailes and O’Reilly. There is also the matter of how Bombshell was received by the film establishment. The only awards it consistently won were for hair styling.


Rob Weir




The Four Winds A Mixed Effort

The Four Winds (2021)

Kristin Hannah

St. Martin's Press, 464 pages.




It’s risky when contemporary authors try to update classical literature. When done well, the results sparkle and refresh; when botched, readers wonder what tempted them to go where angels fear to tread. Kristin Hannah's The Four Winds is inspired by John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath and lands in mid-spectrum between success and failure. At its best moments, it makes us feel the utter despair of being trapped in the Great Dust Bowl, perhaps the greatest eco-disaster in American history.


The Dust Bowl (1930-36) saw winds howl across the Great Plains and rip away the topsoil. To give a measure of how bad they were, in April 1935, the noonday sun in Boston, Washington, and New York was blackened out by dust that originated in Montana. Small farmers simply could not survive year after year of drought, which is why the Okies and Arkies of Steinbeck’s tale packed their possessions into rickety trucks and headed for California. 


 Hannah's twist is that her protagonists are from West Texas, a place often overlooked in Dust Bowl narratives. We first meet Elsa Wolcott in 1921, she the daughter of uppity, parents who told her she was too plain for anyone to desire. Their self-righteous cruelty drives her into the arms of Rafe Martinelli, who impregnates her. The two best things to come out of were a daughter, Loreda, and finding acceptance in the home of Rafe’s parents, Tony and Rose, who become surrogates for Elsa’s parents, who disowned her. Elsa never dreamed of being a farmer’s wife, let alone being part of an Italian household radically different from that of her formative years. Soon, another child, Anthony, joined the extended family. If this sounds a tad too sentimental, you’re right.


Jump ahead to 1934, when Loreda is 12 and Anthony 7. It is a year of hunger, desperation, and dust so thick that schools close, animals starve, and dirt flies into the house through every crevice. Tony remains optimistic that the rains will come, but Rafe doesn’t believe it. He begins to drink and dream–seldom a good combination. One day, he simply disappears, which is the last thing a daughter on the cusp of teenhood needs from a father whom she idolizes.


Hannah’s writing is at its most vivid when describing the horrors of the Dust Bowl. She places readers inside a ruined landscape in which machinery, outbuildings, and even livestock disappear under mounds of dirt. Imagine tornadoes filled with topsoil. One by one, farmers pack it in and head for California. When rain doesn’t come, Elsa and her children join the westward sojourners, though Tony and Rose stay put. This middle third of the book is Hannah’s strongest.


Many Dust Bowl stories discuss jalopies, hungry travelers, and makeshift campsites of American refugees from their own country. Hannah reminds us of less-discussed dangers along the way: theft, muggings, and sexual assault, to name a few. The experience of arriving in California is a scene straight out of a Woody Guthrie song. (Listen to his “Do Re Mi.”) If you think of the treatment of Latino immigrants today, that’s how Dust Bowl refugees were treated: backbreaking work, hostile locals, filthy camps, take-it-or-starve pay, and company store schemes that turn laborers into wage slaves. Back in Texas, Tony and Rose barely survive, but New Deal programs offer some hope.


As the calendar turns to 1936, conditions in California deteriorate and anger rises. At this juncture, Hannah introduces Jack Valen, a Communist Party (CPUSA) organizer. This is the weakest part of the novel. Hannah correctly surmises the inherent conservatism of bosses and migrants alike, but once Valen is placed within Elsa’s and Loreda’s sphere, you can probably storyboard a sizable chunk of this part of the novel. CPUSA organizers were unsung heroes during the hardest years of the Depression, but Hannah’s labor strife sections founder in a sea of one-dimensional situations and carboard cutout characters. This is compounded by the moving contrasts between individual tragedies and the shorter shrift given to collective tragedy and politics. Moreover, characters often speak and act in anachronistic ways that make it obvious that Hannah has contemporary border migrants in mind. The mood of the coda also feels like today dressed in 1940 garb.


Forgive the cliché, but The Four Winds is no Grapes of Wrath. Oddly, one of the reasons is that Hannah’s search for modern-day relevance dulls the vibrancy of the novel’s middle sections. I liked The Four Winds, but it reminded of a “B” student essay that squandered “A” material.


Rob Weir




Original logo, though maybe we might need a Buffalo Bisons patch

Welcome to the “if” edition of MLB predictions. Lots of MLB analysts say the Yankees will roll to the AL East crown, but for the life of me–and I’m a Yankees fan–I fail to see how they come to that conclusion. Every team except the Orioles could win, if everything goes their way. So, let’s take a look on that basis.


The Blue Jays have rebuilt and it’s uncertain whether they are ready, or still a year or two away.Heck, who knows if they'll even play in Toronto this year. Still, they can win...


            If Bichette, Biggio, Gurriel Jr. and Guerrero Jr. are ready to leap into stardom;

            If Springer is the veteran glue that inspires them to greatness;

            If Hernandez, Semien, and Tellez hit more than just homeruns.

            If Someone other than Ryu pitches well. Therein lies their fate. Ray, Roark, and Stripling have never been more than serviceable, and Matz has been neither healthy nor good in his 6 years in the Bigs.


There is no sense wasting time with the Orioles.  Felix Fernandez will probably be one f their starters and that speaks volumes. It would take a miracle for the O’s to be within sniffing distance of a .500 season.


The Rays shop in the bargain basement and still manage to look like they’re dressed in designer duds. I’m not so sure about that this year. They can still win…


            If Arozarena’s postseason wasn’t a fluke. Based on the latter, he’s being called a budding superstar. Really? May I remind people that Denny Doyle was almost a World Series MVP.

            If two or more of the following hit for power: Adames, Choi, Lowe, or Meadows hit for power; otherwise, the Rays will scrape for runs.

            If Hill doesn’t wake up one morning and realize he’s old.

            If Wacha adjusts to the AL.

            If Archer isn’t his usual mediocre self.


The Red Sox have been written off and I hope that’s true because I think it’s a travesty that Cora is still allowed to manage an MLB team. Commonsense tells me, though, that the Red Sox have a much better everyday lineup than the Rays. They can surprise…


            If Dalbec is more than an AAA slugger who strikes out more than he makes contact.

            If (J.D.) Martinez bounces back and isn’t on the downhill slide.

            If Renfroe, Cordero, and Richards don’t demonstrate why they’ve been traded. (I have my doubts about the latter two.

            If they find a decent everyday 2B.

            If Devers doesn’t regress with the glove.

            If Eovaldi and Rodriguez stay healthy. Odds are low on that.

            If Pivetta is a steal. (He might be; the Phillies are horrible at evaluating talent.)

            If (Martin) Perez doesn’t revert to being a hitter’s best friend. Smart money is on the second option.

            If Ottavino isn’t out of gas.

            If Sale returns and makes an impact. History isn’t on his side.


The Yankees are more beloved by sabermetrics wingnuts than by dispassionate analysts. Their superstar at every position approach too often outweighs commonsense. Everyone in the lineup is capable of hitting 25-45 homeruns, but the baseball isn’t hopped up like a meth addict this year and just one guy, LeMahieu, is known for getting on base a lot. They will flame out unless they adjust to situational hitting instead of highlight reel homeruns. They can only succeed…


            If Hicks and Urshela are healthy and adjust their swings to maximize OBP.

            If Judge and Stanton actually stay off the DL for a change. Otherwise, they’re just flashy toys.

            If Torres proves he can play SS.

            If Frazier continues to improve.

            If Taillon and Kluber are really healthy. Taillon is just 29, but he’s had two Tommy John surgeries and Kluber’s last two seasons were nightmares.

            If the Yankees have the wisdom to see that German could be their #2 pitcher.

            If Servino comes off the DL and contributes with big outtings.

            If O’Day, Loisiga, and someone else replace what the bullpen lost. Green will need to be reliable as well.


AL East Predictions:


1. Blue Jays:             Simply because they are younger, healthier, and hungrier.

2. Rays:                     They are seldom great, but they’re usually good.

3. Yankees:               If all those “ifs” come true, they’ll win, but it’s a long list.

4.  Red Sox:              A ton of ifs, but not nuts to think they could pass the Yanks.

5.  Orioles:                 The stink won’t be from the Chesapeake.