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September 18, 2023

Sunday Times journalist warns over ‘very upsetting’ Russell Brand follow-up coverage

Brand is now a self-styled enemy of the so-called "mainstream media" with his own Youtube channel.

By Charlotte Tobitt and Dominic Ponsford

The Sunday Times journalist who led the investigation into Russell Brand has criticised other newspapers for sensationalism in their follow-up coverage.

Sunday Times media editor Rosamund Urwin has been investigating allegations of sexual assault against Brand since 2019. She ultimately worked together with colleagues at The Times – reporter Charlotte Wace and head of investigations Paul Morgan-Bentley – and Channel 4 Dispatches on an investigation that was broken by The Times website on Saturday afternoon.

Brand was also the subject of extensive coverage in yesterday’s Sunday Times and was the subject of a 90-minute Dispatches documentary aired on Saturday night.

In response, Brand has said he was “very promiscuous” but that all his relationships were consensual.

Speaking on Times Radio after the investigation was published, Urwin criticised the way other newspapers followed up the story in its first 24 hours.

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She said Brand’s alleged victims were “happy with our coverage but it’s in every single newspaper and some of the headlines that have been put on things that obviously we reported very delicately – they’re very, very upsetting”.

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Urwin added: “We are obliged to not sensationalise these stories and I am very frustrated that one of our rival papers this morning has put a headline on Alice’s story that is frankly disgusting.

“I really think we should be aware as an industry that there are duties that we are bound by. We have a regulator for a reason. Reporting around sexual offences has to be incredibly carefully and delicately done…” Urwin did not specify which newspapers she meant specifically.

The Mail was separately criticised online for appearing to take credit for reporting the allegations against Brand “first”. In the Mail on Sunday, a headline claimed: “First with the news again… yesterday’s Daily Mail was the only paper with the story.” Brand published his video defending himself against the allegations, off the back of the right to reply questions he had been sent, at about 11.20pm on Friday – more than 16 hours before the Times and Sunday Times story was released – and the Daily Mail added a short story about it into its late edition.

In The Times and Sunday Times story, the journalists took time to explain their reporting process and demonstrate the amount of work that had gone into verifying the allegations: “Over the past few years, reporters have interviewed hundreds of sources who knew or worked with Brand: ex-girlfriends and their friends and family, comedians and other celebrities, people who worked with him on radio and TV, and senior staff at the BBC, Channel 4 and other media organisations,” they wrote.

“Along with these interviews reporters have seen private emails and text messages, submitted freedom of information requests, viewed medical and therapists’ notes, scrutinised Brand’s books and interviews, and watched and listened to hundreds of hours of his shows on the BBC, Channel 4 and YouTube to corroborate allegations.”

The BBC and Channel 4 now have their own questions to answer about Brand’s time working for them on his Radio 2 show and programmes like Big Brother’s Big Mouth respectively. On Monday, The Times revealed the allegation that Brand used a BBC car service to pick up a 16-year-old from school so she could visit him at home. The BBC said it is “urgently looking into the issues raised” after sources said bosses had repeatedly been warned about his alleged behaviour.

The investigation also revealed that staff at Channel 4 were allegedly tasked with finding young female audience members to meet Brand after recordings. The channel has said it is “determined to understand the full nature of what went on”.

Russell Brand: Enemy of ‘mainstream media’

In recent years Russell Brand has styled himself as an enemy of the mainstream media and provided a forum for conspiracy theories on his Youtube channel about topics ranging from coronavirus and climate change to the war in Ukraine. He has previously said he is open-minded about the idea that the US government was behind the 9/11 terror attacks that left 3,000 people dead.

But he previously worked closely with legacy publishers. In 2013 he wrote a 2,300-word article for The Guardian explaining the context of a reference made at the GQ Awards to sponsor Hugo Boss making uniforms for the Nazis.

The following month he guest edited an edition of the New Statesman and wrote a long-read feature for the title outlining his political philosophy.

Brand won The Sun’s Shagger of the Year award for three years in a row in 2006, 2007 and 2008 before the newspaper then renamed it the Russell Brand Shagger of the Year Award in his honour.

But he sued The Sun over a 2013 front page story saying he had cheated on girlfriend Jemima Khan with a glamour model, winning a libel settlement that he promised to give to a Hillsborough charity.

He again wrote a piece for The Guardian about that legal row in which he suggested journalists had only written the negative story about him because he had criticised the media. H made a similar accusation on Friday night in the video released ahead of the new allegations being published.

Brand wrote in 2013: “Some friends of mine thought it dubious that the Sun’s deceitful story appeared just days after I’d spoken out against the media, corporations and the government.

“It could be a coincidence. Or it could be that the Sun loves me when I’m a prattling, giggling, Essex boy ‘Shagger of the Year’, when I’m in my proper place, beneath vacuous headlines, herding their flock towards dumb lingo and crap bingo, when I’m being cheeky on MTV or even unwisely invading answerphones, in a way that many would argue, is less offensive than the manner that they are alleged to have done.”

“In my place I’m fine, but if I use my glistening podium, to talk to the people I grew up with, or signed on with or used drugs with, vulnerable overlooked, underserved, ordinary people, people that can’t sue them as I am, then out come the fangs.”

In 2007 Brand accepted substantial libel damages from the Daily Star over a front-page story which alleged he had been questioned by police in relation to the rape of a 20-year-old woman.

Brand featured in Press Gazette’s “villains of the year” list at the end of 2014 for his conduct towards two journalists: he threw curry paste at Daily Mail reporter Neil Sears and tweeted his mobile phone number to his 8.7 million followers, and he abruptly ended an interview with Channel 4 News’s Paraic O’Brien by calling him “a snide” for asking about his own housing costs while campaigning against sky-high rents and tax-dodging landlords.

Brand threatened to sue The Sun for calling him a hypocrite over the same story – after which the newspaper published a poll showing the majority of people thought he was one.

Brand’s response

In his statement responding to The Times/Sunday Times/Channel 4 allegations Brand has portrayed the story as an attack on him from a “mainstream media” motivated by his fringe views.

He said: “I’m aware that you guys have been saying in the comments for a while, ‘watch out Russell, they’re coming for you, you’re getting too close to the truth, Russell Brand did not kill himself’, I know that a year ago there was a spate of articles, ‘Russell Brand’s a conspiracy theorist’, ‘Russell Brand’s right wing’.

“I’m aware of news media making phone calls, sending letters to people I know for ages and ages, it’s been clear to me, or at least it feels to me, like there’s a serious and concerted agenda to control these kind of spaces, and these kind of voices, and I mean my voice along with your voice.”

Some media figures have appeared to back Brand and his right to defend himself against accusations that are made in the media without police charges being brought – with others pointing out the high bar to publishing such allegations because of the UK’s tough libel laws.

GB News presenter Bev Turner tweeted on Saturday morning, after Brand had published his video but before the Times/Sunday Times/Channel 4 allegations were out, to say Brand was a “hero” and blaming “establishment media” who “don’t know what to do with the fact that you have six million subscribers and generate autonomous, knowing and original content”.

Her GB News co-host, the Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce, told her on-air on Monday morning “shame on you”. He said of her tweet: “That is shameful. You have dismissed in one tweet a four-year investigation by The Sunday Times, The Times and Channel 4 as contemptuously the ‘mainstream media’… Don’t you think before you say he’s a hero you should establish whether these very serious allegations are true?”

Turner said in response that she believed there was “no smoking gun” against Brand and added: “He’s a man who generates his own content under his own speed… he is a threat to all of these newspapers. I love newspapers, don’t get me wrong, I love this industry, but what I’m saying is why now?”

Turner continued, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic: “If all of the mainstream media hadn’t been singing from one non-scientific hymn sheet for the last three years then he wouldn’t have the hero status that he has. You’ve created that hero.”

Others who have shared similar sentiments towards Brand versus the “mainstream media” include GB News presenters Neil Oliver and Laurence Fox, and Lord Alan Sugar who said: “It seems strange that a few people have come forward at the same time. This leads me to think this is media driven and induced.”

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