If you were a journalist constrained by BBC impartiality, castigated by both the left and the right, living under the tyranny of licence-fee payers, what would you do once free? BBC heavyweights Jon Sopel, Emily Maitlis and Lewis Goodall have jumped ship and found their way to the deep-pocketed media company Global. They’ve launched a politics podcast, The News Agents (geddit?), with a new episode every weekday, complete with branded TikTok account and YouTube channel.
The trio hope to cover events on both sides of the Atlantic. In the first episode, they discuss the FBI’s raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago lair and interview “friend of The News Agents” Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director, who rants about Hitler and praises Maitlis for being “so famous now”. The conversation flits from news to strained banter to chummy chit-chat.
You sense they don’t know what to do with this newfound freedom. They give each other nicknames. Sopel becomes “Sopes”; Goodall becomes “Luigi”. Maitlis admits she doesn’t know what an “affidavit” is. Goodall observes that the news moves so fast these days. By the end, it feels as if you’ve spent the evening at a party at Maitlis’s house making small talk with her odd American friends.
After a nervy first episode, the group settle down to the news at hand. By the third episode, they are at ease debating the problems facing the incoming prime minister and quizzing Michael Gove about his final words with Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Goodall’s obsessive passion for politics shines through. Much as he did at Newsnight, he displays a knack for breaking stories down and analysing their origins. But his explanatory prowess is often eclipsed by the inane musings of Sopel. At one point, Sopel interrupts Goodall to say: “A friend of mine swallowed a wasp and rang for an ambulance, and they said, ‘It’s going to take forever to get here.’” The News Agents are at their best when they stick to the news.
The News Agents
[See also: The real Boris Johnson]
This article appears in the 07 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Liz Truss Unchained