Columns, Opinion

Seen On TV: AT&T and OAN, an unlikely love affair

A report by Reuters last Wednesday, Oct. 6, uncovered that the majority of funding for One America News, better known as OAN, came from telecommunications conglomerate AT&T — which is strange for a variety of reasons.

If you haven’t yet had the misfortune of accidentally channel-surfing to the god-forsaken hellhole that is OAN while trying to find Fox Sports 1, I’ll try to describe it as best I can.

Imagine, hypothetically, that a squadron of aliens came down to Earth, watched the Fox News primetime lineup, and decided to replicate it. Then imagine that those aliens couldn’t run the network themselves because, well, they’re aliens. So they turned that responsibility over to a group of 8th graders and said, “this TV network is yours, kiddos, as long as you make sure everything you say is literally insane.”

Alexia Nizhny / DFP Staff

That’s OAN.

The network has been promoted by former President Trump, who began appearing on the network regularly near the end of his term. Trump routinely used the network as an outlet for spreading misinformation about the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

OAN has been called out for spreading other conspiracy theories surrounding things like the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, YouTube removed the ability for OAN to monetize its videos after it had repeatedly broken that platform’s policy on COVID-19 disinformation.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone except Mike Lindell would fund such a thing, but it’s even more unusual that that company ended up being AT&T.

An important detail in why that’s so strange is that AT&T is the owner of WarnerMedia, which owns CNN. That fact blows the revelation into a whole different plane of weirdness.

Why would a company fund two things that are diametrically opposed? It’s hard for AT&T to argue that CNN and OAN can coexist together. But the company isn’t keen on making an argument one way or another — they’re sticking with a strategy of denying that a financial relationship exists.

In a statement to Reuters after the publication of their story, the company said they “‘never had a financial interest in OAN’s success’” and that AT&T “‘does not ‘fund’ OAN.’” Evidence from a recent court filing shows that that statement is a lie.

According to testimony from a former OAN accountant, AT&T-owned television platforms provide roughly 90% of OAN’s total funding, including through lucrative deals with its subsidiary DirecTV. The same Reuters article stated that a lawyer for OAN said that without the deals AT&T and DirecTV have cut with OAN, “‘the company [OAN] would go out of business tomorrow.’”

It should be noted, though, that in recent months, AT&T has begun to spin its WarnerMedia and DirecTV properties into independent businesses. Meaning that soon, the company will have no involvement with either brand.

Another shocking piece of information from the Reuters article comes from court testimony by Robert Herring, co-founder of OAN. According to the story, he indicated that without AT&T, he could have never created the network.

“‘AT&T told us…they wanted a conservative network,’” the article quoted Herring saying in a 2019 unrelated deposition.

Herring also claims that he and the company offered to air positive coverage on AT&T when the two companies struck a deal that would allow his channel to appear on AT&T’s distribution platforms, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV.

These claims may be somewhat unbelievable given the swamp he crawled out of to issue these statements. But, even without any alleged quid pro quo, the fact remains that AT&T is funding both a legitimate news network and a far-right conspiracy factory.

The question remains, why would a company willingly do such a thing?

This could illustrate how the corporate side of media may view news and political coverage as just another feather in their content cap.

WarnerMedia, the content-creating subsidiary of AT&T, invests in a ton of different things to cover all their bases when it comes to content. “Impractical Jokers,” “The Sopranos,” “Harry Potter,” “Sesame Street,” “Inside The NBA” and “Adventure Time” all come out of WarnerMedia. All those film and television properties present different and varied outlooks on the world. And that’s fine when it comes to fictional properties.

But that doesn’t work with the news. There cannot be different or varied outlooks on the news because news reflects the real world. There’s only one of those, and it’s not the one you’re seeing on OAN.

News is not ‘content’ and AT&T, or any company for that matter, shouldn’t be treating it as such.

Comments are closed.