Wootton’s reputation at the station was one of impunity. His first show attracted 350 complaints after he delivered a fiery six-minute monologue on the “madness” of lockdowns. Ofcom declined to investigate.
Even a lurid catfishing sex scandal this summer where an ex-partner accused him of adopting the pseudonym Martin Branning and offering colleagues thousands of pounds in exchange for explicit photos and videos didn’t dent his career. Wootton has admitted making “errors of judgment” but strongly denies any criminality.
“Wootton thought he was untouchable,” one former employee said over the weekend. “When the channel launched he was more nervy and uncertain, but the more he got away with, the more he insisted on controlling everything. He’d squash you if you didn’t toe his line.”
As Laurence Fox’s tweets last week showed, Wootton had been briefed on Fox’s plans to attack journalist Ava Evans over her comments on a men’s mental health minister. Wootton not only smirked, laughed and failed to counter Fox’s tirade of personal derogatory remarks but, according to GB News employees, ignored orders from producers delivered “increasingly frantically” over his earpiece to stop Fox, counter his claims and, eventually, to apologise to viewers after Fox had finished.
“We had management calling in during the show telling us to get Dan to do something, but he just ignored us,” a junior staffer said. “We added an apology on the autocue afterwards which he didn’t bother to read.”
As the 7,300 complaints flooded into Ofcom — and GB News co-owner Sir Paul Marshall declared his interest in buying the Daily Telegraph — management decided enough was enough.
Wootton’s frantic apologies and craven declarations that he thought Evans was brilliant proved insufficient in the face of GB News’s fear of Ofcom and Marshall’s bid for respectability. “The Dan Wootton incident was an unfortunate accident waiting to happen when you hire people who have no knowledge of the Ofcom broadcasting code,” explains Dr Alice Enders, head of research at Enders Analysis.
“We don’t think it’s a slam dunk, we don’t see Paul Marshall as a risk-free bidder and the seller will be aware of that.”
Wootton, the son of British parents who emigrated to New Zealand, moved to Britain aged 21 to work on TV trade magazine Broadcast.
He moved to the News of the World, then the Sun where he produced a number of scoops — including 2020’s Megxit front page breaking Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal duties and successfully defending his claims that Johnny Depp was a “wife beater” who had repeatedly assaulted his partner Amber Heard after Depp sued for libel and lost.
According to Wootton’s ex-partner Alex Truby, the GB News man arrived here with strong centre-Left politics.
“He was always so proud that one of his first breaks was interviewing Helen Clark when she was a Labour prime minister in New Zealand,” Truby told journalists on the Byline Times.
“Dan comes from a family of liberal people. His family are educators. When I knew him, his politics were the same as theirs.”
When Wootton moved to GB News in 2021, his drift rightwards accelerated. Early debate shows usually degenerated into awkward rows with Wootton’s catchphrase “you Lefties” featuring prominently.
As Andrew Neil’s spirited declaration of intent for the channel — “no hectoring, no conspiracy theories, pride in Britain and a determination to speak up for those who feel their voice has not been heard in the mainstream media” — vanished along with Neil and much of the launch team, Wootton’s star rose under the guidance of chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos.
The latter, despairing at low ratings, steered GB News further to the Right and, with co-owner Sir Paul keen to make GB News the centre of the next Tory leadership race, Nigel Farage’s hiring was followed by recruitment via Conservative Central Office, including MPs Lee Anderson, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey and Philip Davies.
Despite this, the station has yet to make money. Company accounts for the year to May 2022 showed a £30.7 million loss on revenues of £3.6 million.
“It’s unfortunate for the Right-of-centre world that GB News hogs the headlines as if Right-wing news is failing,” says David Elstein, former chief executive of Channel 5. “Calling it a news channel where there’s very little news doesn’t help. It’s basically people shouting. That is not sustainable. The UK is different to America. Fox News was available here for years until it surrendered its licence in 2017 and no one watched it at all.”
With pressure building on GB News from the regulators — the channel is now facing a total of 12 Ofcom investigations relating to issues that include failing to provide editorial balance by using sitting MPs as presenters — the station is considering moving some of its more controversial presenters to its online platforms, which are not regulated to the same extent as the channel. Wootton has been replaced by former comedian Mark Dolan.
He has form in Wootton’s beloved anti-lockdown stance, having cut up a facemask on air when he was on talkRADIO. Faced with condemnation from fellow presenter Jamie East and even Piers Morgan, he recanted, insisting that he followed all government rules on mask wearing. He has also condemned Laurence Fox.
Whether this will be enough to silence critics and clear the way for Marshall’s Telegraph bid remains to be seen.
Over the weekend, to the despair of the Telegraph’s pro-Brexit readers, German media giant Axel Springer threw its hat in the ring.
Springer, which publishes Die Welt, as well as the Business Insider and Politico digital platforms, is preparing for the forthcoming auction.
Could it be that Wootton’s career died in vain?