Far-Right Network One America News Was Almost Entirely Funded by AT&T, According to Court Records

Far-Right Network One America News Was Almost Entirely Funded by AT&T, According to Court Records
Rioters storm the Capitol in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021 in a failed attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election results. (Photo: Jose Luis Magana / File, AP)

One America News, the network for conservatives that have wriggled down the far-right rabbit hole so deep they think Fox News is anti-Donald Trump propaganda, is reportedly largely run on the dime of AT&T and its former subsidiary DirecTV.

According to a Reuters investigation posted Wednesday, these two rotten apples — one of the most-hated telecoms in the country and an amoral propaganda network that promotes conspiracy theories and airs dreams of fascist violence — are bosom buddies, with OAN able to fund operations almost exclusively thanks to AT&T’s historic largesse. Reuters reviewed court records and found that OAN founder and Herring Networks CEO Robert Herring Sr. testified in a 2019 deposition that AT&T executives encouraged him to start the company in 2013, and the telecom was responsible for pouring cash into it moving forward.

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during the deposition, Reuters reported. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”

OAN’s revenue comes almost exclusively from its deal with former AT&T subsidiary DirecTV, which this year spun off into an independent company with a majority stake (70%) owned by AT&T. Reuters found that during a labour lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at the network in 2019, an OAN accountant issued sworn testimony that 90% of OAN’s income stems from streaming arrangements with DirecTV and other AT&T-owned TV providers. The accountant said that without support from AT&T, the company would be totally worthless, and its assets at the time would amount to just $23 million (AUD).

State and federal court documents obtained by Reuters further show that in 2013 AT&T offered to buy a 5% stake in OAN and Herring’s other network, a little-known lifestyle channel that mostly broadcasts programming for the ultra-rich that is now named AWE. Though OAN president Charles Herring (one of the Herring sons) said in a sworn statement he accepted the offer verbally, the deal never went through. Instead, A&T offered Herring Networks a deal to pay them $0.25 a month for each of its 5.7 million U-Verse customers, which is about a million bucks monthly.

According to Reuters, Charles Herring also said that when AT&T announced it would acquire DirecTV in 2014, Herring Networks first tried to ingratiate itself with the telecom by having OAN lobby in favour of the merger. Regulators approved the DirecTV acquisition the next year. This likely had little to do with whatever influence campaign OAN may have mounted, and in Reuter’s telling, AT&T didn’t want OAN or AWE along for the ride as it migrated U-Verse customers to DirecTV. So the Herrings sued, and in 2017 obtained a settlement in which the telecom agreed to give them a lucrative deal right as Trump’s putrid four years in office was kicking off.

OAN and its anchors have fed viewers a steady stream of far-right punditry and hoaxes posing as reporting, in particular unfounded conspiracy theories that Trump was the real winner of the 2020 elections. For example, it interviewed Ron Watson, the former administrator of fringe imageboard 8chan/8kun who is widely suspected to be the man behind QAnon, as though he was an election security expert. OAN spread lies that “antifa” and/or “anti-Trump extremists” were behind the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol mounted by Trump supporters trying to overturn the election, then soft-pedaled its subsequent coverage to look like nothing major had happened.

OAN continued to refer to Trump on its website as “President Trump” until April 2021, well over a month after the ex-president had fled to Mar-a-Lago to simmer. In June 2021, an OAN anchor fantasized on-air about mass executions of those behind the imaginary election “coup.” The network was one of the biggest backers of the fraudulent election “audit” in Arizona which unsuccessfully sought to discredit the state’s 2020 results. When it’s not defending Trump’s honour, OAN largely airs culture war drivel, antivax nonsense, and other paranoid extremism about everything from immigration to Black Lives Matter protests.

Earlier this month, former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who is on something of an image-rehabilitation tour, referred to OAN as “like state-run media.” The Daily Beast reported that disgraced former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who is being investigated by the feds, said in a defamation lawsuit that OAN president Charles Herring had assigned anchor Christina Bobb to work on Trump’s failed lawsuits seeking to have the election thrown out. Trump’s campaign was given veto power over Bobb’s coverage, Guiliani claimed.

Reuters reported that OAN has actually done quite well for itself even as Trump failed to remain in office and its fabricated coverage failed to pan out. Sensor Tower data cited by Reuters showed a record 767,000 people installed its app in November 2021 after Fox News admitted Biden won, while Similarweb data showed its monthly web traffic spiked to 15 million from then until January 2021 and now remains at an average of eight million. Reuters was unable to estimate OAN’s actual TV viewership, but former OAN Washington bureau chief Neil W. McCabe told the news agency that its reliance on fees from cable, satellite, and streaming providers allows OAN to minimise advertising and immunizes it from boycotts. An internal AT&T filing obtained by Reuters showed that if numbers cited by the Herrings are correct, DirecTV would be paying OAN $79 million (AUD) for a five-year contract.

OAN’s conservative TV rival Fox News also famously relies on fees from cable providers to stay on the air.

“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,” AT&T spokesperson Jim Greer told Reuters. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”