Live from the Pratcave: GB News is Britain's least-silenced people saying 'unsayable' things they've said before
Reporting on night one of "Britain's news channel".
In the beginning, there was the word and the word was “Britain”.
GB News began with an orange face emerging from the darkness, like a racist uncle discovering Twitch or the regulars of the most cursèd flat roof pub in Christendom trying to recreate V For Vendetta with some kit they purchased from a bloke in a Dixon’s carpark. If ever there was an endeavour that represented the polar opposite of the dictum “the money’s all there on the screen”, it was this.
After months and months of big promises — like a Tinder match that claims they’ll rock your world but can barely rock their rickety single bed — GB News limped into being with an Andrew Neil monologue which regurgitated every lame talking point he had already hammered in a round of increasingly pompous pre-launch interviews. Tom Harwood, drawing on his years playing Muttley to Paul Staines — a man who truly puts the Dick into Dastardly — gushed, “What. A. Speech”, but I don’t think anyone besides committed ideologues was convinced.
Neil opened with such pumped up pomposity that I was worried his arse was going to start expanding at an exponential rate like Rod Stewart’s in the infamous Kenny Everett sketch. It was a genuine surprise to me that the segment didn’t end with producers trying to retrieve an over-inflated Neil from the studio ceiling, his speech continuing regardless.
He began his oratory at 8pm by saying…
Welcome to the launch of GB News, Britain’s news channel, dedicated to covering the news that matters to you and to giving a voice to those who felt sidelined or even silenced in our great national debates…
… before spending the next hour introducing a series of cringe-inducing chats with the channel’s presenters, all familiar faces in one way or another, who assured viewers that they had been silenced but now could speak freely in a way that hundreds of hours on TV or years in possession of newspaper columns simply hadn’t allowed them to do.
During his monologue, Neil promised…
We will encourage debate and conversation to include voices you don’t often hear on other news broadcasts… We will always demand respect for other points of view… [and] if you want fake news, lies, disinformation, distortion of the facts, conspiracy theories, then GB News is not for you. Because in everything we do we will be guided by the highest journalistic standards…
It took less than an hour for those high-minded promises to be broken. In the opening moments of GB News’ first proper show Tonight Live, the presenter Dan Wootton, the perma-grinning face that greets you at the gates of the circle of hell reserved for paparazzi and reality TV villains, delivered a lengthy diatribe about Covid-19, claiming lockdowns ‘don’t work’, and pointing to such viral successes as… uh… Florida and Texas.
Speaking in the same leaden tabloidese that dominates his execrable MailOnline columns, Wootton told viewers:
Lockdowns are a crude measure. Mark my words, in the years to come we will discover they have caused far more deaths and devastation than the government has ever admitted. They should be wiped from the public health playbook forever more. But, tragically, the doomsday scientists and public health officials have taken control.
They’re addicted to the power and the government are satisfied its 15-month-long never-ending scare campaign has suitably terrified the public into supporting lockdowns. But if we don’t fight back against this madness, some of the damage will be irreversible.
No No No! Tomorrow night in an address to the nation, Boris will likely try and tell us it will be just another four weeks. As if! There’ll be the next variant, the next scare story, more intense lobbying by paranoid public health officials repeated ad nauseum by the BBC and ITV unchallenged.
Why don’t they report on the good news? The fact 95% of over-65s – the vulnerable age group – now have Covid antibodies. The fact that while infections are fast rising, deaths are not. Because the vaccine programme has worked. Why not look to Florida or Texas or Sweden, where a different approach that doesn’t keep large parts of the economy locked down, has worked?
That’s Florida, a state that's credibly believed to have undercounted its 37,000 deaths by as much as 40%, Texas with its death toll of 50,857 so far in a state of 29 million people, and Sweden, a country whose king declared its response “a failure”, and which has suffered significantly more deaths than its more cautious Scandinavian neighbours.
Wootton, a man previously widely and rightly condemned for his irresponsible reporting on HIV as well as his obsessional treatment of the Sussexes, and mawkish crocodile tears for Caroline Flack, is not a journalist. He is as liberal with the lies as he is with the self-tan, the most radioactively orange opportunists this side of Donald Trump. And his monologue was as fact-free as any of his performances for Talk Radio.
With Neil’s promise that GB News would be fake-news-free already blown out of the water, it was time for Wootton to introduce his guests and bring the world those unheard voices we’d be promised. The first show’s big guests were a shy and retiring collection of unknowns including Lords Sugar and Sumption, a little known failed parliamentary candidate called Nigel Farage, and Allison Pearson, who has only been a national newspaper columnist for a mere 30 years.
Wooton’s panel — who remained with him for the duration of the show — were also a testament to just how lazy the booking policy will be. It was comprised of the i newspaper’s Benjamin Butterworth — the token liberal who will turn up to any right-wing media outlet to be treated like a weather-beaten chew toy — the Daily Express’ Carole Malone — a permanent fixture on Channel 5’s The Jeremy Vine show — and GB News’ aggravatingly cravatted archaeologist and opinion haver Neil Oliver.
Andrew Neil’s claim that GB News would eschew shouting matches and foster debate for all points of view was quickly holed beneath the waterline too, as Wootton and his other guests consistently harangued and shouted down Butterworth whose role was to act as a piñata, distributing liberal talking points for the other panellists to deride.
The topics, content, and delivery were identical to any bust-up you might have heard while accidentally listening to Talk Radio in a cab.
And Wootton has not improved as a presenter during GB News’ strikingly long rehearsal period. He is a terrible broadcaster, as uncomfortable on TV as he was unlistenable on radio, honking out pre-planned lines and sitting impatiently while guests answer his questions.
Wootton always seems to be waiting to plunge into the next bit where he gets to talk again and looks at his guests like a dog convinced that you’ve got some cooked chicken in your pocket. His tone is tabloid hectoring throughout with no lightness and shade, no humour beyond obsequious faux-laughter that he reserves for honoured guests like… uh… Lord Sugar and tomorrow night’s voice from the streets… Roger Daltrey from The Who.
What comedy there was during Tonight Live was unintentional, like the moment when Wootton’s mic cut out as he introduced his ‘free speech’ segment with Nigel Farage. Wootton had been CANCELLED by his own channel on the first night of his show. Someone alert The Daily Telegraph, WOKE CENSORS have infiltrated the pure FREE SPEECH CITADEL of GB News.
The conversation with Farage was the usual guff touching on Brexit, immigration, Donald Trump and why Nigel is right about everything. You’d get the same content and delivery by talking to anyone sat at the end of the bar in any flat roof pub across Britain, with the added bonus of Dan Wootton not being there. The Farage interview ended prematurely when GB News cut to an ad break in the middle of one of his answers; it was the best editorial decision of the evening.
We were then treated to an excruciating chat between Wootton and Lord Sugar, who was calling in on the last existing Amstrad E-m@iler from what appeared to be his third-best khazi, themed around Carry On… Up The Khyber. After trying and failing to get Sugar to condemn footballers taking the knee, Wootton asked the laugh-free Lord if he had or would take the knee himself. Sugar told him that was “a bloody stupid question”. That was not the low point.
As an ex-Sun man, you know the only thing you can believe about that paper is the date on the front page and the price… everything else you have to take with a pinch of salt.
Wootton tried to defend the honour of his ex- and no doubt future employers, stuttering “That’s not fair, Lord Sugar, that’s not fair,” before quickly moving on to… the body language section. The pre-recorded segment featuring Wootton and an ‘expert’ didn’t begin promisingly:
Wootton: President Biden and Boris Johnson… what did we see, Judy?
Judy: Not a lot, Dan…
I can’t wait for their forthcoming phrenology item, though with some of the heads in the GB News studio that might not be so wise.
After enduring over two hours of GB News’ ’premium’ content, I finally switched off when Wootton uttered the words, “Coming up in UnCancelled at 11, Allison Pearson joins me…” Pearson, who has published proven lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories in her Telegraph column without being cancelled whatsoever is one of the world’s least cancelled people. She’s all over the media like a persistent case of crabs.
In his monologue, Neil said that the GB News lineup combines “youth and experience” and, like all of the channel’s statements it contains a grain of truth wrapped in a deep-fried coating of utter bullshit. As someone who was approached by the channel described it to me, the model is…
… one pro and one gobshite [per show]. Someone who can be directed and trusted to know where the line is paired with someone who isn’t.
That’s why Simon McCoy, late of the BBC, was sat awkwardly beside Alexandra Philips, the former Brexit Party MEP and employee of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, as she promised to have lots of very edgy opinions. McCoy grinned and bore it, thinking no doubt of the money and the likelihood that his time at the BBC was coming to an end anyway.
Alistair Stewart was plonked beside one-joke man Andrew Doyle as they promoted their respective shows. Doyle had all the screen presence of a week-old corpse, while Stewart — let off his leash — had the demeanour of a perma-pickled retired colonel from the Home Counties learning to tolerate women being admitted to his private members’ club. Doyle, another of Britain’s least silenced men, will be presenting Free Speech Nation, which will be invitation-to-watch-literally-anything-else-television.
It’s easy to make jokes about GB News — and I will — but the channel isn’t for me nor does it actually matter all that much if people tune in to watch it for any significant amount of time. It exists to put pressure — real or imagined — on the existing news sources, to try to nudge them further to the right and to endlessly claim that the rest of the media is “too woke”.
The GB News model is the Fox News blueprint remade for a British audience, despite Neil’s claims that it’s also a bit like MSNBC. The direct steals go as far as programme names (“…And Friends”) and the combination of staid establishment anchors with unhinged comment section trolls.
The channel’s suggestion that the country outside London has been ‘ignored’ is actually laughable. Writing from Norwich, I can’t help but notice how GB News has farmed its local correspondents from regional radio and local ITV and BBC TV news while pretending that NO ONE SPEAKS FOR ‘NORMAL’ BRITAIN.
On its website, GB News features such scintillating local stories as ‘There’s more to Yorkshire than meets the eye’ and ‘East of England is more than coastal erosion, beaches, and farming’. We know and we weren’t desperately waiting for GB News to tell us so.
As well as the frequent (and hollow) claims that no other channels are covering the kind of things that GB News will cover and “all other news is too woke”, the channel’s pitch last night pushed the idea that no one looks at good news stories. Watch even one BBC local news bulletin and you’ll discover that’s far from the case — boosterism and gormless features are a mainstay of those programmes — but it’s also true that consumers don’t really want good news.
It all made the presenters come off a little bit like Nancy in Peep Show bemoaning the lack of uplifting tales on the nightly news:
Nancy: [watching the news] Bad news, bad news, bad news. Jesus, Jeremy, one bus crash. What about all the buses that made it safely to their destinations, huh?
Jeremy: Yeah! Yeah, this is such bullshit.
Mark: Yes, I suppose the news should just be a dispassionate list of all the events that have occurred the world over during the day. That would be good. Except of course, it would take forever!
One night of GB News certainly felt like it took forever.
There’s also no doubt that the GB News executives are hoping that the government, which is still floating Paul Dacre for Ofcom chair, might further loosen the rules to allow the channel to go full Fox, tossing impartiality and having inconvenient guests on ‘for balance’ right out of the window.
After mocking Wootton’s Sun-til-I-die loyalties, Sugar wrecked GB News’ act from the off. While the presenter tried to push him to talk about things he has no idea about — something GB News staff and guests alike are expected to do — he kept giving answers like, “I have no clue when this thing is coming to an end. I’m no doctor, I’m no scientist and the thing is changing every day and I have no idea.” Wootton suffers from no such qualms.
GB News will do its business in bite-sized conspiracy burps, videos that stoke controversy on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. It’s not about breaking news — that’s one thing it’s been honest about — but about dousing British discourse with kerosene and flicking around matches.
Andrew Neil may lean on his time at the BBC to give himself legitimacy but he is also the man who chose the holocaust denier David Irving to translate Goebells’ diaries when he was at The Sunday Times and pursued a campaign of AIDS denialism when editor of that paper.
As I wrote in a previous edition of this newsletter:
In 1990, The Sunday Times serialised a book that claimed AIDS could not spread to heterosexuals. That publication was supported by a series of articles, comment pieces and editorials from the paper that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on HIV/AIDS and called HIV “a politically correct virus” supported by a “conspiracy of silence”. It suggested that AIDS was not spreading in Africa, that HIV tests weren’t valid, called the World Health Organization an “Empire-building AIDS [organisation]” and claimed that the HIV/AIDS treatment azidothymidine was actually harmful.
When the scientific journal, Nature, which had been monitoring the dangerous pseudoscience being peddled by The Sunday Times, published letters rebutting the paper’s claims, it hit back. Under the headline ‘AIDS — why we won’t be silenced’ the paper accused Nature of having “sinister intent” and censorship.In his 1996 biography, Full Disclosure, which covered his time at the paper, Neil claimed the denialism “deserved publication to encourage debate”. He also wrote an article for The Sunday Times in that same year under the headline The great Aids myth is finally laid to rest which read in part:
The Sunday Times was one of a handful of newspapers, perhaps the most prominent, which argued that heterosexual Aids was a myth. The figures are now in and this newspaper stands totally vindicated...
The history of AIDS is one of the great scandals of our time. I do not blame doctors and the AIDS lobby for warning that everybody might be at risk in the early days, when ignorance was rife and reliable evidence scant.
Neil went on to attack what he called “the AIDS establishment” and claimed, “AIDS had become an industry, a job-creation scheme for the caring classes.”
Remember that when you read articles in The Times and Sunday Times rightly lauding former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies for It’s A Sin. When it came to HIV and AIDS, when the facts mattered most, Sunday Times journalists were the Daleks and Andrew Neil was their Davros.
Andrew Neil had form long before “fake news” was a familiar term. I don’t believe that GB News will be any different. He snarls in interviews that lefties decided that the channel would be awful before it even began and that’s true. But if you hire the entire population of Arkham Asylum, you can’t credibly pretend to be Batman, no matter how much you dress your sets like a budget Batcave.