In the fallout of his 2020 defeat, Donald Trump immediately began pushing election-fraud claims so outlandish that even Fox News did not go so far as to support them. This perceived betrayal by Trump’s favorite network helped give rise to One America News, which for the past 11 months has catered to the MAGA faithful while keeping the conspiracy drumbeat going––and, apparently, America can thank AT&T for that. In a bombshell story on Wednesday, Reuters reported that the telecom giant allegedly played a pivotal role in the creation of OAN, ostensibly commissioning the site and paying for its continued existence.
Executives from AT&T, which also owns CNN through its subsidiary WarnerMedia, reportedly met with OAN’s founder Robert Herring prior to his creation of the outlet to express their interest in helping launch a right-wing network that could rival Fox News. “They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said in 2019, according to a deposition obtained by Reuters. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [left-wing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.” While OAN has been picked up by a number of cable, satellite, and streaming providers, according to Reuters, an accountant working for the network explained in a 2020 court testimony that AT&T was bankrolling 90% of the income for Herring Networks, the company that owns OAN. An OAN lawyer stated in court that the company “would go out of business tomorrow” if its deal with the AT&T-owned provider DirecTV ended.
The Reuters report, which pulled some of its information from an OAN lawsuit filed against AT&T and a lawsuit filed against OAN by a former producer, received pushback from AT&T spokesman Jim Greer, who declined to comment to the outlet on the testimony about OAN’s revenue sources. “We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” the conglomerate’s spokesperson said. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”
The two entities apparently have a tangled history. OAN first entered AT&T’s orbit via its now defunct online U-verse platform. In the early stage of the relationship, AT&T offered to purchase 5% of Herring Networks in a deal that didn’t go through. Ultimately, in 2014, after AT&T announced it would acquire DirecTV, then AT&T executive Aaron Slator offered to air Herring’s channel on DirecTV in exchange for help lobbying government regulators, according to claims made by OAN in court. Today, DirecTV pays OAN per subscriber so the channel can be seen by DirecTV customers. Aside from its partnership with AT&T, OAN also earns money from online-only providers, including Roku, Amazon Fire, Google Play, and Apple TV, where subscribers pay $4.99 per month for streaming access to the channel.
Of course, the ties between OAN and Trumpworld also run deep. Following the 2020 election, OAN received a notable uptick in media and viewer attention after co-opting Trump’s election lies, including the claim that ballot machines created by Dominion Voting Systems had been used to tilt the election for Joe Biden. The network is currently facing a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion. (In a response to Dominion’s call for OAN to retract its accusations, the network’s lawyer, Bernard Rhodes, called Dominion’s demands “irrelevant in the face of one simple point of law: The First Amendment protects offensive and ‘shameful’ journalism.”) In June, OAN host Pearson Sharp claimed that the “2020 election was not only tampered with, but was actually overthrown,” and seemed to suggest that those who “meddled with our sacred democratic process and tried to steal power by taking away the voices of the American people” should be executed. That same month, a guest on the network said Americans should celebrate “white history month” rather than the “perverted” Pride month, and called for Christians to “stand up and fight against” the LGBTQ community.
Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is himself caught up in the Dominion lawsuits for ginning up conspiracy theories against the company, reportedly said in an August deposition that the Trump administration was so close with the network that they had the authority to veto some of OAN’s stories. “The rules that we made with [OAN president] Charles [Herring] were that he would defer to us—to whatever our needs were,” Giuliani said.
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