There's a moment during the first Monday night of GB News's programming when its chairman, the former BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil, finds himself staring into the abyss. The Abyss's name is Dan Wootton, and the Abyss is very pleased with himself. He's cheerfully telling Neil about his fact-free lockdown scepticism, and Neil, who is still wedded to logic, looks worried that his career is in a burning clown car.
The grinning Abyss has a three-hour programme every night (straight after Neil's), featuring other nihilistic information vacuums like Nigel Farage and Rod Liddle. I believe it's called Stare into the Abyss for Three Hours, and it does what it says on the tin.
Wootton’s show is probably the most distilled version of what this new channel promises to be. GB News has been designed as a sort of Fox News UK. It’s there, by its own account, to shake off the shackles of both the BBC’s allegedly “woke” echo chamber and also actual reporting, which, I think you’ll agree, amplifies reality’s left-wing bias.
The people at GB News hate elitist experts so much they've apparently chosen not to hire any technicians. Clips don't play or the wrong clips play. Guests are inaudible or bathed in echo
The people at GB News love the Union Jack so much they’ve dismembered one and made a sort of tortured, glitchy, cubist logo from it. It’s a logo that really makes a statement. That statement is: “I am in great pain.”
The people at GB News hate elitist experts so much they’ve apparently chosen not to hire any technicians. Clips don’t play or the wrong clips play. Guests are inaudible or bathed in echo (sounding suspiciously like they’re in an echo chamber). All of the presenters have developed a strained grimace for when things fail. Yes, they mightn’t do journalism, but they have perfected gurnilism.
The people at GB News love Britain so much they're not going to trouble it with much actual reporting, dispatching bubbly reporters to talk to randomers and expecting viewers to email in their views. "Mike Smith has been in touch to say I don't smile enough," says the Brexit Party candidate turned presenter Michelle Dewberry, giving just a sample of the type of content acquired in this manner.
Over the course of each day, viewers are bombarded with questions. “Would you vaccinate your child against Covid?” “Should Isis bride Shamima Begum be let back into Britain?” “Are killer bees brainwashing our children?” (That one’s mine.)
You could spend the whole day shouting “Yes!” and “No!” at GB News, which is clearly a lot of people’s idea of a good time. Though not as opinionated as Wootton, the daytime presenters cover wedge issues in the culture war – footballers taking the knee, immigrants crossing the Channel, Tory councillors forced to remove Union Jack bunting – while also oohing about life-saving dogs and new cafes opening in northern suburbs.
GB News is basically a beacon of positivity about Britain that's simultaneously deeply suspicious about fellow Britons, who they think want to vaccinate them against their will and teach them French. My favourite bits are the weather reports, because they're the only segments without technical problems (my nerves are shattered), and the contributions from the adorable child reporter Tom Harwood, whom older presenters can barely resist popping on their laps and saying, "Now there, sonny me lad, tell us about the Australia trade deal and I'll give you a hoop and a stick." Based on the daytime schedule, it feels like GB News is fighting its "war on woke" very cunningly. I mean, after watching it I don't feel very woke at all. I feel very sleepy.
As Dan Wootton keeps reminding us, GB News isn't like the fuddy-duddy BBC with its 'rules', so when Rod Liddle comes on he's smoking a cigarette, and Lady Colin Campbell has a dog on her lap
Things perk up with Andrew Neil, who is now orange. He has a segment on his show called Woke Watch, featuring an aggrieved white man named Andrew Doyle grumpily lamenting, for example, that the National Trust has created signs acknowledging that some properties were funded by the slave trade.
While Doyle generously accepts that a history of structural racism is a terrible thing, he also finds reading about it at a stately home annoying. Yes, millions have been traumatised by centuries of racism, but Doyle is mildly irritated by having to read a sign when on a day trip. So, if you think about it, it evens out.
For the most part Neil has an actual news show where he grills guests such as the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, about real issues. Neil is just rebelling against a perceived left-wing bias in the BBC (the organisation to which the famed Marxist Dominic Cummings constantly leaked Tory talking points), but his colleague the Abyss appears to be rebelling against actual news values. On Wootton's Monday show a member of the British public calls in to ask Roger Daltrey of The Who about government pandemic policy. Seriously.
For a moment I think a researcher – probably the person who does the sound – was asked to book someone from the WHO. Then I remember that Daltrey is a Brexit-voting curmudgeon, and it makes sense. Who knows what’s going to happen next. (I’ve left that sentence as a statement rather than a question in deference to the GB News fans’ faith in Daltrey.)
As Wootton keeps reminding us, GB News isn't like the fuddy-duddy BBC with its "rules", so when Rod Liddle comes on to protest footballers taking the knee against racism, he's smoking a cigarette. When Lady Colin Campbell turns up to lambast Meghan Markle and quibble about whether Jeffrey Epstein was a paedophile or an ephebophile, she has a dog on her lap. When the "anti-woke" actor Laurence Fox inevitably appears, I think, he'll surely be naked from the waist down and in clown makeup. When Fox does turn up – it was inevitable – he's actually wearing a suit and calling lockdown "child abuse".
You can't win against the Abyss and his attention-starved chums. Outrage is like oxygen to them. Each angry tweet or article just convinces them that they are martyrs on a burning pyre
It doesn’t take long for Wootton to go full wingnut. On Tuesday he highlights a baseless conspiracy theory about how lockdowns might ultimately be a government plot to curb carbon emissions. Does he have facts to back this up? No. But he’s the type of journalist who doesn’t need facts. He prefers to ask questions. You know, like your four-year-old: What is a dog? Why is the moon? Are spiders happy? Is Isis funding the BBC?
There are some dissenting voices on Wootton's panel, but most of his guests are a who's-who of trollkind. They include Allison Pearson, Rod Liddle, Claire Fox, Megyn Kelly, Laurence Fox, Lady Colin Campbell, Lord Voldemort, Scrooge McDuck, the millionaire from the cover of the Monopoly Box, Cruella DeVil, Megatron, Gargamel from the Smurfs and Nigel Farage. (Only the worst seven actually appear.)
Look, you can’t win against the Abyss and his attention-starved chums. Outrage is like oxygen to them. Each angry tweet or article just convinces them that they are martyrs on a burning pyre, even though that pyre is actually made of money and it’s not actually on fire because nobody thought to hire anyone who knew how fire works.