Not so Brillo figures: Andrew Neil, the deceptive graphs, and the coming of GB News

We're told that Andrew Neil's new channel will be impartial and accurate. How does that claim compare to his history?

Since the Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown is still under sustained right-wing media attack over a single tweet, it seems only fair to give one of conservative journalism’s own big beasts the same treatement. And in the case of Andrew Neil, there’s a lot of history to jump back to while you’re there.

Neil’s tweet is a typical boastful message about the ‘success’ of The Spectator:

Now, if you were simply doomscrolling through Twitter’s quagmire of conspiracy, contention and shit posts, you might briefly glance at those graphs and think, “Oh, The Spectator’s mix of superciliousness, lies, and white supremacism is doing really well.”

But on closer inspection it’s a pretty blantant piece of stats distortion. And you don’t even need the CSI *enhance* computer to notice that the y-axes on those graphs are quite different, with The Spectator’s one given a flattering range.

Here are the sales figures for the four publication’s plotted alongside each other:

Or put another way, Private Eye has a circulation of 230,000, The Economist shift 170,000 copies, The Week manages 140,000 and The Spectator, even after a number of free gift promotions (including a desperate cheap whiskey one), isn’t breaking 100,000 copies. Neil could have focused on The Spectator growing in a decling market, which is true but less flashy, but he had to put out skewed stats to try to claim something that’s patently untrue.

This tendency to push reality through a prism of prejudice and pretty bare-faced lies is common on the right and particularly in the right-wing press. It’s how The Times could publish both a news story castigating Rev. Jarel-Robinson for a single tweeted opinion in the same paper as a long and soapy interview with the nascent ‘free speech’ champion and bull-necked egotist Eton teacher.

On a macro level, it’s how the right-wing columnist class is able to persuade itself that despite having a Conservative government and right-wingers in key positions across culture and society it’s really the Left pulling the strings.

Neil himself lives within the distorting prism, shouting loudly that during his time at the BBC as one of its big beast interviewers he was never anything but impartial. That’s despite his years as a trusted consigliere to Rupert Murdoch as Sunday Times editor and chairman of Sky TV, then retaining his position as first Chief Executive then Chair of the Barclay brothers’ Press Holdings Group — parent company of The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph — throughout his time at the BBC.

The chance of someone on the left being allowed to a) be a prominent interviewer on the BBC b) be paid “more the Prime Minister” — the usual stick deployed by the tabloids to batter BBC stars they don’t like and c) also be involved in the commercial activities of a major left-wing publisher (if such a thing existed) is less than zero.

Neil’s entire BBC career was an exercise in double standards. The same double standards that continue when the Director General hammers on about impartiality — defined here as not being publicly left-wing — while major presenters like Justin Webb and Andrew Marr contribute to The Daily Mail.

In fact, the very notion that the BBC is ‘stuffed with lefties’ is belied by what its big stars do when they move on. I listened yesterday to an episode of Jeremy Paxman’s podcast where he indulgently interviewed fire-damaged Lego minifig and Titania McGrath-creator Andrew Doyle; John Humphrys leapt from Today straight into a prominent column for The Daily Mail and post-Woman’s Hour the same pages became a new home for Jenny Murray.

There are mountains of evidence that if anything many of BBC News’ big beasts and smaller creatures besides skew right — with news agendas often defined by whatever The Daily Mail is obsessed with that morning. Despite that Andrew Neil, backed by an alliance of Discovery Inc, Liberty Global, Legatum — the hedge fund that bankrolls the right-wing Legatum Institute think-tank — and Brexit-boosting hedge funder Sir Paul Marshall (who also funds the cursed cowsite Unherd), is on the cusp of revealing GB News.

Announcing that he was going to present GB News’ evening programme when it launches later this year, Neil said:

GB News is the most exciting thing to happen in British television news for more than 20 years. We will champion robust, balanced debate and a range of perspectives on the issues that affect everyone in the UK, not just those living in the London area. We've seen a huge gap in the market for a new form of television news. GB News is aimed at the vast number of British people who feel underserved and unheard by their media.

GB News showed its commitment to those who feel undeserved and unheard by the London media elite by… announcing in January that London-based former Sun ‘journalist’ and talkRadio host, Dan Wootton — an animatronic arsehole with access to plentiful supplies of fake tan — will host a daily show.

On February 2nd, GB News tossed its toys out of the pram over a Marina Hyde column in which she suggested that its channel will be in “the bonkers newsotainment game” and “entirely unmoored from the facts”. When The Guardian didn’t publish a letter in response from GB News cheif executive Angelos Frangopoulos — owner of UK media’s ‘most enjoyable name to say out loud’ — it was ‘seen’ by The Press Gazette.

Frangopoulos wrote:

To call us an ‘anti-impartiality news channel’ is not only untrue but baseless given that we haven’t launched yet. It also misunderstands Ofcom’s due impartilaity rules which do not allow a biased news station in this country.

GB News will be staunchly independent. That is our point. Our investors know this, our journalists will know it and so will our viewers.

We aim to serve British communities who feel poorly represented by mainstream television media, especially outside London.We are proud to be adding plurality to UK media by investing in journalism that will be as diverse and broad-minded as the British people themselves.

He is engaged in semantics which I, to quote the great Malcolm Tucker, “call wank”. GB News will achieve ‘impartiality’ in the same way that LBC allegedly does: Sprinkling some pseudo-left presenters through the schedule so it can claim that there is balance across the schedule rather than in specific shows. And really it will just be a waiting game until the government legislates to introduce new Ofcom regulations that clear the pitch for GB News and Rupert Murdoch’s forthcoming channel to go hog wild.

Later in his letter Frangopolous writes:

“We are absolutely committed to our mission to report news in the most accurate and balanced way we can.”

If I actually wanted to do that, I would simply not have appointed Andrew Neil as chairman or given him a nightly show. Why? Because if Neil was not a rich, well-connected white man, one gigantic turd on his CV would still be following him around far more than it seems to now. Two words — David Irving.

On July 7, 1992, AP reported:

Revisionist historian David Irving’s key role in getting Joseph Goebbel’s diaries published has sparked protests by Jews and provoked debate over the accuracy of translations by a man who claims there was no Holocaust.

The Sunday Times, which paid Irving for transcribing previously unpublished extracts from the diaries as well as a ″finder’s fee″ for delivering them to the paper, has been attacked for dealing with the controversial historian.

The state archives in Moscow, where the diaries were discovered, has also become embroiled in the controversy because of its dealings with Irving. The cash-strapped archives, which allowed him to work free, now says it should be paid.

Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neil said the controversy over Irving has obscured the potential impact of the previously unpublished segments of the diaries, which Oxford historian Norman Stone says fill ″the largest outstanding gap in the documentation of the Third Reich.″

Since the rival Independent newspaper revealed details of the publishing deal last week, Irving’s house has been picketed by Jewish groups and the Anti-Nazi League. The protesters say Irving’s views make him unsuitable to translate the diaries of Hitler’s propaganda chief…

Irving, who has written many books about World War II and is preparing a biography of Goebbels, denied accusations that he was an ″apologist for Hitler,″ but stood by his contention that there was no Holocaust. In an article he wrote in Tuesday’s Guardian, he predicted that ″one year from now the Holocaust will be discredited.″

Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neil said it would have been more convenient if a non-controversial historian had offered the newspaper new extracts from the diaries, but Irving came up with ″a world scoop″ and he wasn’t about to turn it down.

Neil said Irving was one of the few people who could decipher Goebbels’ spidery handwriting and shorthand. Irving said it had taken him two years to learn how to read it…

Neil said The Sunday Times has done extensive checks against already published sections of Goebbels diaries and is convinced the new extracts are not fakes. In 1983, the newspaper bought purported Hitler diaries, which turned out to be forgeries.

″It’s not a mistake The Sunday Times could afford to make twice,″ Neil said.

When, 26 years later, when Owen Jones discussed the incident in a column for The Guardian, writing…

As editor of the Sunday Times in 1992, he hired Britain’s foremost Holocaust denier, Nazi apologist David Irving, to work on the Goebbels diaries. To hire a sympathiser of Hitler and denier of the worst atrocity in history to do respectable work for a national newspaper – to offer a reputational lifeline to a man who should have been treated as a pariah – was a disgrace for which he has never apologised. As the Wiener Library, the oldest institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust, said at the time: “David Irving denies the gas chambers. Anyone who deals with him is tainted with that.”

… Neil spluttered about ‘fake news’ and focused on the question of whether Irving had been paid rather than whether he was asked to undertake the work.

He also ignored another point in Jones’ piece, about the coverage of AIDS by The Sunday Times under Neil’s editorship. Jones wrote:

When he was Sunday Times editor, his newspaper ran a series of articles arguing that HIV did not cause AIDS.

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 soubt 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 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.

“Tonight on GB News why exterminating humanity is the right policy for you and your family…”