The Guardian, the Mirror, and other corporate media outlets have published – and then promptly deleted – the news that the Met Police is investigating Dan Wooton over alleged sexual offences. Independent outlet Byline Times originally published the story, and has so far held firm. However, the situation raises serious questions about the “toxic culture” in the corporate media.
Dan Wooton: Byline Times investigates
Byline Times has been investigating allegations against journalist and broadcaster Dan Wooton. He works for GB News, but was recently suspended following an on-air incident involving far-right commentator Laurence Fox. Previously, Wooton worked for the Sun and the Daily Mail – the latter only recently cancelling his contract, again over the incident with Fox.
However, Wooton’s career has been dogged by allegations of sexual offences. As Byline Times reported:
On 12 July, criminal claims started to emerge on social media, with posts rapidly attracting more than 18 million views. On 27 July, Byline Times started publishing a series of stories examining 40-year-old New Zealander Wootton’s personal and professional conduct.
The article noted that there have been:
allegations that Wootton staged a 10-year-long campaign to ‘catfish’ men using the online alias of ‘Martin Branning’ to persuade them to film sexual content which was then, in at least one case, allegedly used for blackmail.
Byline Times claimed it:
has extensive evidence to show that, between June 2008 and 2018, Wootton – who is gay – posed as a fictitious showbusiness agent called “Martin Branning” to offer sums of up to £30,000 “tax free” to his targets, many of whom were heterosexual men.
Among them are a very senior executive at Rupert Murdoch’s News UK alongside at least six other staff at The Sun newspaper – one with close links to News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks – friends, Facebook associates and users of the dating apps Grindr and Gaydar.
National media falls into line
National media picked up on the story, with outlets including the Guardian, LADbible, the Mirror, Birmingham Live, and also the independent Scottish outlet the National all publishing versions of Byline Times‘s original scoop.
However, one by one the outlets began deleting the stories:
The Guardian has removed a story published last night providing a significant update on the Dan Wootton story.
— Dominic Ponsford (@DomPonsford) October 3, 2023
Sadly not for long pic.twitter.com/5D7w6SW6Sm
— Manic Kieth Preachers KC (@wrb91) October 3, 2023
Now, every article has been deleted – except, as of 12pm on Tuesday 3 October, LADbible‘s version. Fortunately, the internet doesn’t always forget. There’s still a cache of the Guardian‘s article here, stating that Wooton:
has not directly denied the allegations but says he is the victim of a smear campaign by unknown forces who want to shut down his political views.
Journalists from Byline Times were unimpressed by the national media’s action:
— Hardeep Matharu (@Hardeep_Matharu) October 3, 2023
Founder Peter Jukes made it quite clear why he thought the national media deleted their stories: Wooton’s lawyers had got involved. He shared a copy of an email from them, which he said was sent to another media outlet:
Oddly enough the threats of Wootton’s lawyers (not send to us) actually confirmed the story. Just to note this is clear SLAPP territory. No proceedings have been initiated against us and contrast with Brand pic.twitter.com/hUuw7GhufK
— Peter Jukes (@peterjukes) October 3, 2023
A ‘toxic culture’ pervades the national media
On the issue of privacy, legally until a court either issues a summons or police arrest a defendant, then the media can report whatever they want on a case – especially if it’s classed as being in the public interest. We can compare and contrast the Wooton story with that of Russell Brand. Countless media outlets have reported on the police investigations into him. The Times even claims it investigated him because it’s “legitimate and important public interest journalism“.
Yet a very similar situation arises with Wooton – and suddenly the national media cannot speak up, as Byline’s Matharu pointed out:
That in no way explains why all of the established media reported on police developments re Russell Brand, but do not want to touch the equivalent information when it comes to Dan Wootton. I've never said there is a conspiracy. There are systemic problems with our media.
— Hardeep Matharu (@Hardeep_Matharu) October 3, 2023
Overall, it seems her wish for the corporate media “to be brave” didn’t come true:
I'm hoping, and asking, for the established media to be brave tonight.
— Hardeep Matharu (@Hardeep_Matharu) October 2, 2023
Byline Times says the Wooton story is part of a “toxic culture” in the national media – which is exactly right.
Corporate outlets deleting their articles (when they haven’t done so in other cases) once again shows that the sector has no real care for ‘public interest journalism’. If it thinks it can get away with something (that won’t cost it money or ruffle the wrong feathers) then it will. And when the corporate media thinks it can’t get away with reporting on a case about of one of its own, it would rather stay quiet than have to reflect on the toxic culture it perpetuates.
Featured image via the Guardian – screengrab
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