OCTOBER 6, 2021
- One America News was AT&T’s original idea, according to a Reuters investigation.
- The founder of OAN testified in a 2019 deposition that the concept originated with AT&T.
- Reuters found a “lucrative relationship” between the two despite OAN’s blatant conspiracy theories.
AT&T played a significant hand in the creation and continual support of One America News, the far-right media outlet that built its coverage around election conspiracy theories and COVID misinformation, creating a “lucrative relationship” between the two companies, according to a Reuters investigation published Wednesday.
Between the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, OAN enjoyed a boost to its relatively minor ratings and increasingly became former President Donald Trump’s preferred cable network.
Despite his long-running cozy relationship with Fox News, Trump and his surrogates found a home for their demonstrably false conspiracy theories about a rigged election on OAN – and to a similar extent, Newsmax – before both faced costly lawsuits from Dominion Voting Systems.
However, the Reuters investigation found that those legal entanglements did not stop AT&T executives from propping up the network as it faced a potential financial doomsday scenario.
OAN founder and CEO Richard Herring Sr. revealed the importance of AT&T’s contributions to the survival of the network in a court deposition in 2019, which was reviewed by Reuters.
Herring testified that he was offered $250 million for OAN, and that the concept for the network was AT&T’s original idea, not his. Since then, AT&T has stayed a vital source of revenue flow for OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars via deals to carry its channel on TV platforms, according to court documents.
Ninety percent of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms like DirecTV, an OAN accountant revealed in 2020, according to Reuters; AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015 and spun them off in August 2021. Without the DIRECTV deal, the accountant said under oath, the network’s value “would be zero.”
“If Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow,” OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies told the court, according to the deposition’s transcript.
Jim Greer, a spokesperson for AT&T, said DirecTV has had a contract to carry OAN and disputed Reuters’ characterization that this funds OAN. In a statement, he did not address allegations that AT&T executives first proposed the idea for the conservative channel to Herring:
AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN. When AT&T acquired DIRECTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DIRECTV as a result. Four years ago, DIRECTV reached a commercial carriage agreement with OAN, as it has with hundreds of other channels and as OAN has done with the other TV providers that carry its programming.
DIRECTV offers a wide variety of programming, including many news channels that offer a variety of viewpoints, but it does not dictate or control programming on the channels. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong. The decision of whether to renew the carriage agreement upon its expiration will be up to DIRECTV, which is now a separate company outside of AT&T.
One of OAN’s biggest challenges is that it is not carried on nearly as many cable packages as Fox News or the likes of CNN and MSNBC, reaching only about a quarter of the estimated 121 million TV sets nationwide, according to Reuters. Crucially, neither Nielsen or Comscore release OAN ratings numbers because the channel is so minimally distributed.
The week of the insurrection, OAN’s news director told staff they experienced their “best ever” ratings, but did not provide a figure, according to Reuters.
A spokesperson for OAN did not return Insider’s request for comment.