The cesspit of anti-woke, anti-science conspiracy theories that is GB News

The misogynistic incident involving Laurence Fox and Dan Wootton – and the resulting suspensions – will not surprise anybody who is familiar with the channel, writes Sean O’Grady

Friday 29 September 2023 06:48 BST
Dan Wootton and Laurence Fox have both been suspended by GB News
Dan Wootton and Laurence Fox have both been suspended by GB News (GB News)

I see Laurence Fox is in the news again. "Fox News", you might say.

As one of the repertory company of dual-purpose pundits and presenters in the alt-right echo chamber that is GB News, the former moderately successful actor went off on a rant on the Dan Wooton Show about a perfectly decent journalist, Ava Evans.

Both Fox and Wootton have since been suspended by the channel, which said it would be investigating Fox’s comments – which came after Evans, a correspondent with PoliticsJoe, said on TalkTV that “men should be frightened to touch women in a way they are not comfortable with”.

For that reasonable remark, she was rewarded with a vicious Fox rant that mocked her being “spoon-fed” feminism and included this highly offensive passage: “Show me a single self-respecting man that would like to climb into bed with that woman ever, ever, who wasn’t an incel. We need powerful, strong amazing women who make great points for themselves. We don’t need these sort of feminist 4.0. They’re pathetic and embarrassing. Who’d want to shag that?”

Host Wootton was seen giggling during Fox’s rather violent, unnecessarily sexually graphic spasm and, by way of balance, offered up the view that “she’s a very beautiful woman” (which is, of course, beside the point, as well as proving a feminist point). He also noted that Evans had withdrawn a remark about male suicide.

Evans, on Twitter (now Elon Musk’s X), objected to Fox’s impromptu misogynistic speech and said it made her feel physically sick. Fox, as is his habit, also on X, is defiant about his petulant, intemperate remarks: “You are totally entitled to find my mockery of the insane hypocrisy in this world not to your taste, but that’s me, and I will continue to be me, as a wise man once said ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken’”. “Free speech”, as ever, is his defence.

Wootton apologised for his abject failings as a host but, it turns out, thanks to a leak by Fox, that he sent chummy text messages to his colleague after the show. When taken along with some other controversy surrounding Wootton’s private life, his future as a presenter doesn’t seem that secure. Nor does Fox look safe right now. The problem is that there’s plenty more where they came from…

As a piece of television, there was a lot wrong with the segment – even by GB News’s debased standards – but it is hardly a one-off. This sort of stuff is quite routine, though Fox went further with outright sexism than these types usually do.

First, there was, as usual with GB News, no balance in the debate – no one to defend Evans, nor echo and explain her point of view. Sometimes that’s not always possible in a studio, if a discussion veers off unexpectedly (as it tends to with Fox around), but at such points the job of the presenter is to butt in, restrain the speaker, add that they’re not there to defend themselves and point out the context.

This is where Wootton failed, now by his own admission, but it’s been exposed as disingenuous. Indeed, so grievous were the failings on his show that GB News has now suspended the pair of them, admitting Fox’s comments were “totally unacceptable” – with promises to apologise to Evans.

None of what happened is very surprising, though, because GB News has long since descended into being a cesspit of anti-science, anti-vax, climate-denying conspiracy theories within an alt-right, Brexit-fanatic, anti-migrant, “anti-woke” echo chamber.

It was pretty biased before, when Andrew Neil launched it, but since his departure it has frothed into something like the worst aspects of Fox News.

A presenter named Mark Steyn was so virulently anti-vaccine that GB News eventually had to quietly ask him to indemnify them against Ofcom fines – an offer Steyn, understandably, refused and made public.

The channel is still pure propaganda for cranky rightist causes, and is unashamed at being presented by cranky rightist figures. These are not people for whom pluralist, multicultural Britain is a comfortable place to live. They and their irrational, myth-based views are dangerous.

Television remains a powerful medium, and a huge force in a democratic society. Parliament decided that, in the interests of plurality and healthy public debate, broadcasting could not be allowed to go the way of the press – heavily dominated by owners with an avowed pro-Conservative mission.

If radio and television were to be similarly biased, then democracy would be diminished, and especially at election times. Hence, the BBC charter, relevant clauses in the Representation of the People Act and other legislation, and a succession of regulators, the biggest being Ofcom.

Yet Ofcom is completely asleep at the wheel. It does have some open investigations into the worst excesses of GB News, but the problem is more profound – namely that GB News’s actual purpose is to “disrupt” and promote right-wing values (not always Tory ones, but invariably populist and reactionary). The channel has created a false dichotomy in which the BBC, ITV and Sky are all biased in favour of the “progressive left” (which they aren’t) and set itself up as the antidote.

GB News is thought to be helpful to the Tory cause, and so Ofcom and the government have tolerated it ever since. And it is absurd.

Fox himself, for example, is the actual leader of an atavistic political party called Reclaim, who stood in the Uxbridge by-election where he scored 714 votes and lost his deposit. He doesn’t matter, but that doesn’t stop GB News giving him a grotesquely disproportionate nightly platform. The preponderance of serving and former right-wing politicians on the channel should itself disqualify them from holding a broadcasting licence.

So at the moment, Richard Tice, leader of the Reform Party, is standing in for Nigel Farage, a GB News regular whose politics needs no introduction. Farage himself is still the president and owner (ie majority shareholder) of the Reform Party.

Another presenter, Martin Daubney – a spectacularly bad broadcaster (check out the video of him grappling with the breaking news of the arrest of Daniel Khalife) – is a former deputy leader of Fox’s Reclaim Party. He is also an ex-Brexit Party MEP, as so many are.

The deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson MP, has his own show on GB News, as does Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, and grim spousal duo Esther McVey MP and Phil Davies MP. If they all defected to form a GB News Party, they’d be big enough to form their own parliamentary group.

Former Eurosceptic Conservative ministers Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe are also regulars, while Michelle Dewberry, a prominent GBeebies personality, stood for Parliament for the Brexit Party. When they do have people on from the “left”, they are usually quite oddball figures – mavericks with solid Leave credentials, such as Kate Hoey.

Panels are set up with an in-built two-to-one majority for the hard right, plus a plainly biased chair. Gloria de Piero, a former Labour MP for Anderson’s seat, is sequestered well away from peak time, doing human-interest interviews, with the right of the Tory party more than adequately represented.

The fault in all this partly lies with the owners of the GB News – and but more with its nominal regulator Ofcom. One of the channel’s shareholders, Sir Paul Marshall, who is extremely rich and, inevitably, runs a hedge fund, is an evangelical Christian who used to be a Liberal Democrat supporter but has since moved to the Brexity right. He’s put £10m into GB News, and also has an interest in UnHerd, the “free-thinking” opinion website. Now, it is rumoured he wants to play a role in the future of the Telegraph Media Group.

If so, then Marshall’s strong connection with GB News may be a problem, both editorially and from a competition point of view.

At any rate, he and the other major shareholder, the hedge fund Legatum, seem content with their channel, broadly speaking. They probably, I guess, therefore don’t like some of the stuff Fox and Wootton come out with, and there’s some talk of them pushing the barmier stuff web-only, but that’s about it. They’re not about to turn GB News into Newsnight or Question Time.

Fundamentally, things might be better if Ofcom was doing its job properly, but it appears totally supine in the face of GB News’s blatant abuses. Maybe it is terrified of the backlash it may receive if it actually tried to get the station to reflect mainstream political views and parties.

Our media regulator keeps tripping itself up over whether GB News, despite its name, is actually a "news" channel, and has adopted an overly legalistic view of the broadcasting code. They therefore cannot see the public interest wood for the shrubbery of their rule book.

Ofcom tolerates daily, hourly, breaches of the spirit and letter of the law that it would never tolerate from other channels. Tory MPs interview other Tory MPs about what other Tory MPs have said and done. It’s nuts.

GB News is a propaganda channel for a particular political agenda – and that should not and cannot be allowed. Why is that news to Ofcom?

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