OAN reporter

A reporter with One America News Network works at a campaign rally with President Donald Trump at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Virginia on September 25, 2020. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Report Reveals How AT&T Bankrolls Far-Right Disinformation Outlet One America News

"Turns out AT&T virtually created OAN and provides it with nearly all its revenue."

A Wednesday Reuters report based on court records revealed the role that telecommunications giant AT&T played in creating and funding One America News, a far-right network infamous for peddling lies and conspiracy theories on crucial topics, from the 2020 U.S. election to Covid-19.

"AT&T told us... they wanted a conservative network."

The network, known as OAN, thrived thanks to former President Donald Trump, who directed his Twitter followers there at least 120 times, according to the report. OAN--which began covering Trump rallies in 2015 before some outlets treated his White House run seriously--saw its audience spike in November, after Fox New declared then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential contest.

OAN is owned and operated by Robert Herring Sr. and his sons--who declined Reuters' interview requests--as a subsidiary of their San Diego-based Herring Networks. Herring said in a 2019 deposition for a labor suit that he launched OAN six years earlier "to make money, number one... But number two, is that AT&T told us... they wanted a conservative network."

"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 on," Herring, OAN's founder and chief executive, explained of Dallas-based AT&T, the world's largest communications company.

According to Reuters, which reviewed state and federal court records:

Since then, AT&T has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue, court records show. Ninety percent of OAN's revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.

Last year, when a labor lawsuit went to trial, OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies told the court that "if Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow."

The Federal Communications Commission, under former President Barack Obama, approved AT&T's takeover of DirecTV in July 2015. In an affidavit, Charles Herring swears he struck a deal with an AT&T executive that if the Herrings lobbied federal regulators about the acquisition, AT&T would air OAN and another network owned by the family on DirecTV and U-verse.

While AT&T denied in court filings such a deal was made and a spokesperson for the company told Reuters that "support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement," the Herrings sued the company over it in 2016. The next year, the case was settled on undisclosed terms and the two Herring networks began appearing on DirecTV.

In a series of tweets about the reporting on Wednesday, The Week's Ryan Cooper said that "at a minimum this news should prompt a review of the Obama [administration] decision to approve the AT&T/DirecTV merger, and in general aggressive media antitrust."

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