OAN founder Robert Herring said in a 2019 deposition that back in 2013, the telecom behemoth told him to create a new conservative network. He obliged. “I jumped to it and built one,” Herring said.
AT&T has since been pumping tens of millions of dollars into OAN. According to 2020 testimony from one of the network’s accountants, a contract with DirecTV and other AT&T-owned TV platforms represented 90% of OAN’s revenue. “If Herring Networks … was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow,” said OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies, according to a court transcript.
AT&T spokesman Jim Greer told Reuters that he couldn’t comment on any of the testimony about OAN, citing confidentiality agreements, stating vaguely that DirecTV “offers many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum.” Some of those “viewpoints,” apparently, include white supremacy.
OAN has many of the trappings of a legitimate news source — anchors, slick sets, interviews with people branded as experts, and even a credentialed White House reporter (during the Trump administration, at least) — but the network consistently presented misinformation to its viewers about Covid-19, the 2020 election, the January 6th insurrection, and more.
The report published Wednesday provides a new look into the extent of the network’s alleged efforts to manipulate the news in the former president’s favor. On January 6th, an OAN news director instructed staff over email: “Please DO NOT say ‘Trump Supporters Storm Capitol …’ Simply call them demonstrators or protestors … DO NOT CALL IT A RIOT!!!” The following day, Herring emailed network producers to inform them that they should “report all the things Antifa did yesterday.”
OAN owes its rise to national prominence to this kind of breathless, unconditional devotion to Trump, which dwarfs even that of Fox News. As the former president grew frustrated with the latter following its relatively reasonable coverage of the 2020 election results, he directed his followers to OAN, growing its influence. In the weeks following the election, OAN was even working in tandem with Trump’s team. One of the network’s reporters, Christina Bobb, volunteered with the “elite strike force” of Trump lawyers contesting the election results. The Daily Beast reported earlier this week that in a deposition delivered in August, Rudy Giuliani said that Trump’s team was able to approve or reject stories before Bobb published them.
The report published Wednesday also notes that Herring waged a campaign to lobby the government to approve AT&T’s merger with DirecTV in 2015, a campaign that included an offer for AT&T to “utilize OAN’s news programs to cast a positive light on the acquisition.” Herring’s lawyers added that their clients’ devotion to AT&T “ran deep.”
OAN isn’t totally allergic to legitimate news, however. The network has a syndication contract with Reuters, which on Wednesday resulted in the publication of a bombshell story about the network’s primary source of funding. “Special Report: How AT&T Helped Build Far-Right One America News,” a headline on the network’s website read.