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The Clown Car Derby: GB News, Guido Fawkes, and Jacob Rees Mogg compete for the Craphound Cup
Whether cancelling themselves, harassing real journalists, or misusing parliamentary privilege these freeze peach warriors are all equally awful.
Yesterday I wrote that GB News is a clown show. That was not accurate. Clown shows need an internal logic and a coherent narrative. Clown shows need skill, professionalism, and a level of entertainment that GB News cannot hope to replicate in its basement of bad lighting, broken microphones and even more critically broken dreams.
Yes, GB News is not a clown show but a clown car, progressively losing more and more parts as its trundles down the road. Since yesterday’s edition, which focused on the channel’s near-zero viewing figures in some time slots and its ‘cancellation’ of Guto Harri after the presenter took the knee, the world’s most embarrassing TV channel has dropped its trousers and waddled around exposing its whole gammon red arse.
John McAndrew, the channel’s director of programming, has quit. One of the few grown-ups at the culture war creche, McAndrew had previously spent 14 years at Sky News along with stints at ITN. He described his vision for the channel in a pre-launch interview with Press Gazette:
My view of our channel, and certainly how it’s going to be, is that it will be a very warm, inclusive channel where disagreements will be had, tough subjects will absolutely be taken on, but they’ll be taken on in a classy and courteous fashion. What this won’t be is a hate-filled divisive shout-fest that some people seem to have characterised it as, which is 180 degrees away from where we want to be.
Anyone who has seen even a minute of Dan Wootton’s televised Sun leader column ranting will know that “classy and courteous” went out of the window within an hour of broadcasting on the first night. And the channel’s endlessly grim discourse bunker set, which looks like it was decorated by a dictator with an Ikea fetish, leads to the polar opposite of warmth and inclusivity.
One of the few reasons to occasionally flip over to GB News is to watch its various odd-couple presenter pairings fail to disguise their hatred for each other:
Will it be Simon McCoy edging ever closer to dismantling a trouser press at the Linton Travel Tavern as his co-host, ex-Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips manages to make even the most tangentially related story about herself?
Or will it be the gritted teeth bonhomie as some time Allison Pearson sidekick Liam Halligan and former Labour MP/Times Radio escapee Gloria De Piero assure their audience that they absolutely do not want to kill each other?
Sources told The Guardian that McAndrew quit because he came under pressure to dial down the focus on the channel’s (deadly dull) local reporting in favour of more (deadly dull) “full-blooded culture war topics”.
People in the industry that I’ve spoken to since the news broke speak highly of McAndrew so it’s likely that his one month at the wheel of the GB News car will be quickly forgiven and forgotten. Others — particularly the more odious on-air talent — may not find it as easy to shake off the GB News stench.
The current status of Guto Harri with the station remains unclear after the channel hung him — and other presenters who had previously defended his stunt — out to dry with a statement on Thursday night. ‘Friends’ of Harri — presumably not just him in various large and ludicrous wigs — told The Guardian:
GB News is becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be — not defending free speech and combatting cancel culture but replicating it on the far right. Nasty.
It’s ridiculous to say he’s breached editorial standards and almost certainly defamatory. In reality, it wasn’t a breach of editorial code but ‘sacked for offending the lynch mob’.
As I wrote yesterday, the decision to publicly slap down Harri itself is a breach of GB News’ ludicrously puffed up “editorial charter”. A channel that claimed to be about the “independence of [its] journalism”, “putting facts first” and “the right of every individual to form and share their views” turned and ran when the most vituperative part of its tiny audience took offence at something they saw.
McAndrew is not the only senior off-air to have left the channel. The Guardian says others have jumped ship in the past few days, including Gill Penlington, a former BBC, CNN and Sky News producer. Penlington’s LinkedIn page lists her as an ex-GB News employee (Senior Executive Producer, Feb 2021 — Jul 2021). Jim Waterson, The Guardian’s Media Editor, writes:
The departure of other key off-air figures could be announced imminently according to other sources at the channel.
Andrew Neil, who went on ‘holiday’ just two weeks after GB News launched, tweeted about the station last night for the first time since his unexpected hiatus. He wrote:
Start ups are fraught and fractious. GB News is no exception. But the news channel is finding its feet and has a great future. Watch this space.
Yes, watch this space. Some drying paint or some exposed brickwork would be more entertaining than GB News’ output, which is the televised equivalent of a bloke at the end of the pub telling you what he reckons for four hours at a time.
Neil is the only ‘star’ at the station and he sloped off to France for some rest and recovery after a fortnight. Alistair Stewart, GB News’ next best hope for injecting some gravitas (emphasis on the ass) revealed on Friday that he had broken his hip in a horse-riding accident and will be off-air for “a while”. It’s an extreme way of avoiding having to spend time with Dan Wootton but I get it.
Still, while executives and on-air ‘talent’ are dropping like flies, I think calling the death of GB News is premature. It is the Monty Python’s Black Knight of news channels, crying out that it’s “just a flesh wound” even as its legs are lopped off beneath the knee.
It can survive low broadcast audience numbers for a long time if it can keep getting media attention from professional wrestling-style spats and I suspect its backers believe a more all-out Fox News-style operation will be a possibility as the government tweaks the Ofcom rules (and anyway the regulator is already fairly toothless).
What is ludicrous, however, is commentators such as the i Paper’s Political Editor Hugo Gye, still swallowing GB News’ marketing claims. Gye tweeted yesterday:
GB News is a) an interesting idea which deserved a chance to succeed and b) staffed with lots of very talented people. But… starting a channel to promote free speech and oppose cancel culture, then suspending a presenter for taking a knee is incredibly bizarre.
It’s only bizarre if you take GB News’ claims around free speech in good faith rather than seeing that they are in such bad faith that they are subject to a product recall to prevent people consuming them from coming down with the worst case of food poisoning they’ve ever encountered.
And what was “interesting” about GB News? It is based on the false prospectus that the ‘mainstream’ British news outlets were not sufficiently right-wing and that a counterweight to their endless Marxist murmuring was required. GB News is built on a lie. The British press is over-balanced in favour of the right. The vast bulk of its output speaks for the landlords, defends the monarchy in principle and in practice, and automatically frames left-wing ideas as suspect.
GB News presented itself as an ‘alternative’ to something non-existent. It did so because it needed to persuade people there was a niche that needed filling. But it is neither fucked up fish nor especially foul fowl right now. It oscillates between the unhinged rantings of Dan Wootton and GCSE Communications Studies-style reports on tedious local issues that aim for worthy but end up feeling like plate after plate of badly cooked spinach.
McAndrew was right to jump ship because the only real future for GB News, as it has now realised after Harri’s ‘take the knee’ scene, is to commit to the hard right turn, going full-on into the culture war mire. That’s what its audience wants. It doesn’t want upbeat news about cute animals or a worthy report about a new shop in Worksop, it wants war and lots of lovely angry invective that confirms what it already thought about ‘wokeists’. For GB News viewers, nuance is a town in France that they have no interest in visiting.
In Neil’s absence, the only show that has even remotely retained an audience is Wootton’s week-night breakdown, in which he obsesses over the culture war outrages of the day with a hand-picked cabinet of curiosities and creeps. How many of his viewers are true believers and how many just get a Cronenbergian thrill from an endlessly repeated car crash isn’t clear. But GB News bosses have got the message: More chaos, less care.
While Jim Waterson continues to break GB News… uh… news at The Guardian, his partner Jess Brammar is unfortunately in the sights of another right-wing outrage machine: The Guido Fawkes blog.
As I wrote earlier this week, perpetually thirsty drink driving enthusiast Paul Staines has been going in hard on Brammar — a former deputy editor of Newsnight and most recently Editor-in-Chief of HuffPost UK — after it emerged that Sir Robbie ‘Gibbo’ Gibb had attempted to block her potential appointment to a new job overseeing the BBC’s news channels.
Staines’ latest effort is a grim and context-free trawl through Brammar’s personal Instagram, following on from his obsessive study of her Twitter account. He and his chuckling Muttley minions have used this effort to claim that Brammar is Black Lives Matter supporter — as if there’s something inherently wrong with stating the fact that black lives do matter — and to distort obvious jokes:
Holding a woke book for toddlers open on the page “P is for Privilege“, she posts “Yes I am very happy to be a parody of myself”. In another post, she says she and her partner, Guardian media editor Jim Waterson, are anti-cars – except when they need to hire one.
Showing a continued commitment to making the word “exclusive” meaningless, Guido has slapped it on this “we looked at Jess Brammar’s Instagram in entirely bad faith” micro-story and you can expect to see its contents repeated and amplified in the right-wing papers today.
This is not journalism. It is harassment and bullying of the kind that Guido Fawkes has specialised in for years. While it carps on about the ‘cancelling’ of people on the right, it has no compunctions whatsoever about going for those it considers lefties, over and over again. It cannot prove that Brammar’s journalism during her previous time at the BBC was even remotely biased against the government so it must deal in insinuations and lies.
And also as I wrote about earlier this week, it is aided by the Dishonourable Member for Murdoch, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who once again used parliamentary privilege to have revenge on a journalist. In the House of Commons on Thursday, he bloviated at length about Brammar in a fact-free stream of rancid rhetoric:
I think the message to the BBC is that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. It is of crucial importance that the BBC is not only impartial but is seen to be impartial. And the BBC must ask itself — it’s going to make an appointment from the Huffington Post — would it make an appointment from the Guido Fawkes website? A similar news outlet, except a rather more accurate one, on the right rather than the left. I think the BBC would be astonished by my suggestion.
Would they make an appointment from Conservative Home or the Daily Telegraph? And therefore, I think it is problematic when the BBC looks at left-wing outlets and thinks that that is impartiality. But also I think it’s more serious than that because the BBC has a number of dedicated really good quality journalists who are genuinely important, the Laura Kuenssbergs, Martha Kearneys, James Landales of this world — who one has no idea of their political opinions at all and rightly so. That is the model of the BBC, that is the best of the BBC, and people like that are undermined if Caesar’s wife is seen to be suspect.
What’s particularly ludicrous about Mogg’s speech is that he implies that Guido Fawkes is some kind of maverick outlet that is utterly shunned by the rest of the media. In fact, graduates of Guido are all over the British press and media, from Alex Wickham at Politico’s London Playbook to Harry Cole at The Sun, Tom Harwood at GB News and even Jim Waterson who spent an extremely brief period at the blog as an intern.
And contrasting HuffPost with Guido Fawkes is comparing newsgathering apples with odious gossip grubbing oranges. Rees-Mogg’s implication seems to be that anyone who has worked for a publication to the left of Mussolini should not be allowed to return to the BBC. Framing Brammar — by no means a hard left agitator — as beyond the pale is simply a means of attacking the BBC.
Lastly, claiming that it is impossible to discern the politics of the BBC reporters that Mogg listed is hilarious. As long as someone takes a centrist or even centre-right line, people like Mogg are happy to agree that they are “apolitical” or “impartial”. An analysis of, for example, of Kuenssberg’s output would I suspect show she tends to be far tougher on politicians from the left than she is on those from the right. Just look at her latest package with Keir Starmer:
GB News gets away with claiming that it is filling a gap, offering a right-wing perspective that’s missing from the mainstream, because outriders like Paul Staines and nasty opportunists like Jacob Rees Mogg endlessly gaslight us, claiming that public discourse is dominated by reds leaping out from under the bed. The stolidly conservative reality does not serve their ambitions so we’re presented a dream world where anyone who isn’t a furniture-chewing far-right barmpot is a dangerous seditionist.
The clown car trundles on.