Wootton you know it: GB News' first 'star' hire is the worst person in UK journalism
Desperate Dan Wootton has a brass neck, the morality of a particularly unreliable alleycat, and the manipualtive powers of a cartoon snake in a Disney film.
There’s a myth that everyone from New Zealand is nice. People imagine that being home to Hobbiton and an odd kind of pseudo-1950s civility, Jacinda Arden’s plague-free island is populated entirely by lovely people. Two words — and one person — disprove that theory: Dan. Wootton.
UK journalism is such a hive of scum and villainy that it makes the Mos Eisley Cantina look like a creche, but Dan Wootton, who combines oleaginous pseudo-moralising with a howling amorality that allows him to traffic cruel celebrity stories and culture war bullshit without blinking, is the worst of them.
Having started out in New Zealand as an entertainment writer on The Dominion Post in Wellington, where he was also a report for the Good Morning TV show, Wooton arrived in the UK at 21 and bounced around the trades before getting a job at Broadcast. He made the leap to The News of the World in February 2007 and was rapidly promoted becoming TV Editor in November 2007 and Showbiz Editor a year later. He stayed there until 2011 when The News of the World was closed in ignominy in July 2011. Wootton got a new job at The Daily Mail as a columnist and feature writer, as well as an editor-at-large role for Now magazine.
At the Leveson Inquiry in 2012, Wootton denied illegally publishing stories collected through phone hacking. Presumably, he wandered around the office with blinkers on and sang “la la la” whenever anyone discussed ‘blagging’. In a statement at the time of the News of the World’s closure, he said:
“Just remember, my job is to bring you guys the best showbiz stories in the business week in week out — The X-Factor, Cheryl and Ashley, Kate Moss, TOWIE and all of that good stuff. I do so in a legal, ethical and moral way and will continue to do so."
Legal? Well, I have to take his word for that one — for legal reasons, in fact — but ethical and moral? That brings credulity so close to breaking point that if it were a Stretch Armstrong toy you’d have hands covered in goo.
In 2013, Wootton returned to The Sun with a column in the Sunday edition which had risen rapidly from The News of the World’s toxic ashes. He became editor of the Bizarre showbiz column in 2014 — long a stepping stone for future editors of the whole paper — and was promoted to Associate Editor (Showbiz and TV) in 2016. He also appeared as a showbiz reporter on ITV’s Lorraine for 8 years before leaving acrimoniously and writing extensively about it in his column.
Wootton’s back catalogue of stories is littered with bitter, barbed, and blatantly spun tales, but one particular piece from 2015 brought him to wider attention. Topped with the headline ‘Hollywood HIV panic’ — upon which Wootton denied having had any influence — the front page article began:
“Hollywood was gripped with fear last night after a womanising A-list actor was diagnosed with HIV…”
Despite an exclusive tag — Wootton loves to throw the word ‘exclusive’ around — the story was essentially a rewrite of reporting by Radar Online which had appeared earlier the same month. The British Medical Journal wrote that it “[showed] how not to report a case of HIV”, while the Terence Higgins Trust called it “irresponsible” and “an insidious headline grab”. Owen Jones wrote in The Guardian:
The 1980s are back: not in the form of male pop stars wearing eyeliner, but headlines dripping with stigma. “Hollywood HIV panic,” booms the Sun newspaper. “A-list actor’s virus diagnosis rocks showbiz” and “Womanising star has string of ex-lovers”, it adds. Seeing the combination of “HIV” and “panic” in print is not something my generation is accustomed to; three decades ago, it was a tragic norm. For those who have spent their lives campaigning to overcome the stigma of this treatable illness, it is a bleak day.
Wootton sailed on unaffected.
After Wootton complained about celebrities demanding copy control during a brief storm-in-a-teacup in 2017 involving Clare Balding, Popbitch wrote:
“…who is better qualified to opine on the degradation of the art form than Dan Wootton: who is to showbiz journalism what that Spanish pensioner was to that fresco of Christ.”
In 2018, he was promoted to Executive Editor of The Sun and gifted a slot on talkRadio, the prize for being such a good and faithful servant to Rupert Murdoch. From behind the mic, he picked up on every culture war story going, combining sniping and moralising in equal measure, while in print he continued to pump out a stream of salacious stories, getting lots of attention for a sustained campaign against Prince Harry and Meghan Markle once he realised there were page views to be had in bashing the Duchess on every possible occasion.
In September 2019, a front-page Sun story bylined to Wootton and headlined ‘Not In Meg Back Yard’ (groan), from April that year, was ruled to have breached Independent Press Standards Organisation (ISPO) guidelines on accuracy. Wootton had claimed that Prince Harry and Meghan had upset staff by banning ‘low-paid staff’ from using a car park near Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, where they lived at the time.
The carpark wasn’t closed, some staff still used it, and the Royal couple hadn’t made the decision to change its use. The Sun published an apology.
After Caroline Flack died in February 2020, Wooton used the tragedy as a means to promote his new Drive Time show on talkRadio. The station promoted his monologue with this line:
“Dan Wootton will today launch his new Drive Time show on talkRADIO with a personal reflection on his relationship with Caroline Flack following the presenter’s tragic death.
To call Wootton shameless is an understatement. He is a black hole into which shame is drawn and destroyed so that not one atom of self-reflection remains.
After giddily announcing that it was his first Drivetime show, he trailed his ‘heartfelt’ reflections before the news then after saying he would “shake up the biased and boring coverage on the wireless” he pulled an emotional handbrake turn and you could almost see him trying to wring tears from his eyes:
“Caroline never moaned about the criticism that came from the public or the media…”
It was classic Wootton spin. It wasn’t he and his colleagues in the tabloid press who hurt her but the public, the nasty, judging public. He used Flack’s death as a means to defend himself and his bosses at The Sun, claiming he had ‘supported’ her and that his stories had been on her side.
Andrew Brady, Caroline Flack’s ex-fiance, had a very different perspective on Wootton’s role. He wrote (and obviously Wootton would dispute these claims):
“I would like to shine a light on one of the main suspects. Dan Wootton. He works for The Sun, ITV and TalkRadio (last time I checked). Dan, you should be ashamed of yourself. Every time you scrutinised, manipulated and betrayed her trust. Every time you got a compromising story of her or one of her loved ones and used it against her. Tormenting her and calling her every name under the sun. Almost to breaking point. So much so she felt so helpless and thought it necessary to give you another story on another matter to try and make the other story disappear…
Dan, you used to go on Breakfast TV, and you claim to be friends with Caroline. I am singling you out because in addition to personally attacking her on several occasions you have also created a style of showbiz journalism in the UK that is subjecting ordinary people to hurtful and demoralising stories.
… You may not feel guilty for her death as you no longer put your name to articles of her demise. But instead, you let young journalists minions feel like it’s okay to say hurtful things. Anything said by The Sun is on your hands, Dan. Why do you do this? Because you feel entitled to, that’s why. Because apparently, it’s in the public’s best interest. But is it? Who actually cares about who Caroline’s dating or what outfit she’s wearing. I bet you wouldn’t even notice a difference in revenue if you just controlled yourself a little and had some restraint. This is people’s lives you’re gambling with.”
His dewy-eyed monologue done, Dan Wootton rolled onwards.
In January 2020, Wootton broke the news that Prince Harry and Meghan were moving to Canada and stepping away from the Royal Family, ahead of the couple’s planned announcement of the decision.
His next big ‘achievement’ was his involvement in Phillip Scofield coming out in February 2020. While Schofield has insisted that it was his decision to talk about his sexuality, multiple sources suggest that Wootton put it to the TV presenter that The Sun knew about his sexuality and was highly likely to publish a story that would make him look like a hypocrite. If that’s what happened, it’s a classic move — a paper confronts someone with information and tells them they’d better cooperate on the story or it’ll be much worse. There are those ethics that Wootton wittered on about back in the News of the World days.
The January 2020 Royal scoop was also cast in a different light in June 2020, when despite threats from The Sun and Wootton himself, BylineTimes published claims that Wootton paid £4,000 to the partner of a Royal official for stories about Prince Harry published in June and July of 2019 about their son Archie’s nannies and who his godparents would be.
Wootton claimed he was the victim of “misinformation” that had been fed to the investigative reports “in a calculated and malicious way.”
Now Wootton is finally leaving The Sun and talkRadio to become one of the star signings for GB News, the Andrew Neil-fronted, Brexit-backing hedge fund supported new channel, and write a twice-weekly MailOnline column. It’s the Piers Morgan model — combining a TV slot with a bully pulpit from MailOnline to pursue feuds and “set the record straight”.
In the hiring announcement, GB News’ CEO Angelos Frangopoulos, the former CEO of Sky News Australia, says “Dan Wootton shares our vision for challenging the status quo and being more inclusive of different viewpoints while delivering impartial journalism and entertaining debate.”
Nothing says ‘challenging the status quo’ like a news channel funded by a vast legacy media empire (Liberty Global) with extra cash from a right-wing foundation funded by a multi-millionaire hedge fund owner (Legatum) hiring a Sun editor from talkRadio, an outlet owned by famous status quo hater Rupert Murdoch, does it?
I’d say we should just ignore Wootton and, like others have said, let GB News become the right-wing equivalent of Phantom Zone, but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky. Expect his ‘scoops’, rants, and manipulative monologues to be promoted by The Daily Mail and other media monstrosities like Amol Rajan, who ‘broke’ the ‘scoop’ about Wootton’s hiring, to give him plenty of attention too.