Meet OAN's Chanel Rion, major media conduit for Rudy Giuliani’s election-related disinformation
In the year and a half since she was hired at pro-Trump network One America News, chief White House correspondent Chanel Rion has both drawn criticism and gained an audience for her conspiratorial coverage of current events that is largely untethered from reality. Most recently, this has included her work with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in undermining the results of the 2020 election.
Prior to her employment at OAN, Rion had scarce experience in journalism. But she was busy polishing her Trumpian brand and preparing to be one of Trump’s biggest media cheerleaders.
Once hired at OAN, which has recently emerged as one of Trump’s favorite networks amid his post-election grievances with Fox News, Rion’s coverage has focused on pushing a wide variety of pro-Trump propaganda, including contributing to the onslaught of nonexistent voter fraud claims coming out of right-wing media. She has also become close to major figures in Trump’s orbit including Giuliani, whom she regularly assists in efforts to spread disinformation and pro-Trump propaganda. Most recently, Rion has served as a media conduit for Giuliani to spread voter fraud conspiracy theories in an attempt to override the results of the 2020 presidential election.
In addition, Rion’s time at OAN this year has been spent spreading coronavirus disinformation, pushing conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and pumping out constant pro-Trump propaganda and conspiracy theories.
Who is Chanel Rion?
Rion was hired by OAN in the spring of 2019. In a recent profile, Rolling Stone described her pre-OAN resume as “paper-thin.” Rion’s website suggests she attended Harvard University, describing her as a “Harvard trained International Relations graduate.” But she actually attended the adjacent Harvard Extension School where she was part of “a small right-wing group known for publishing provocative op-eds in the student newspaper the Harvard Crimson decrying hookup culture or calling for abstinence-only education.” In 2016, Rion and her then-fiance Courtland Sykes spent the year following Trump’s campaign around the country, attending rallies and other related events where she was able to meet and interact with prominent Republicans.
In 2017, Rion pivoted to political art, where she uploaded cartoons to her website that often depicted racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Rion's art also pushed a debunked conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, whose family recently settled with Fox News for its damaging coverage pushing the same baseless theory. That same year, her fiance Sykes launched a far-right U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri that was filled with controversial and misogynistic comments; Sykes ultimately lost to Josh Hawley, another Republican, receiving a little more than 2% of the vote.
Rion joined OAN in 2019 after Sykes recommended her as a weekend White House correspondent to Neil McCabe, the network’s former White House correspondent. McCabe was reportedly pleased with her screen test, telling Rolling Stone: “A lot of people are great journalists, but they don’t know how to look into a camera or know how to present themselves on television. … To be a television reporter, it seemed like she had the right skill set.”
Since then, Rion has swiftly risen through the ranks at OAN; in January 2020, she was promoted to chief White House correspondent.
Rion’s recent election-related coverage
Rion has largely spearheaded OAN’s efforts to undermine the election results with voter fraud conspiracy theories. She has hosted Giuliani, who is currently in charge of Trump’s legal election efforts, for a slew of interviews that focus on defending and funneling Giuliani’s baseless voter fraud claims. In addition to interviewing Giuliani, she frequently parrots his false claims about the election.
- During OAN’s November 3 Election Day coverage, Rion parroted the Trump campaign’s false claims of victory, saying, “Bottom line: If this were a fair election, this would be a landslide” for Trump. Rion also said she had spoken to Giuliani, who is “getting ready to fight whatever legal fights they need to address the morning after the election.” Rion claimed that Giuliani told her his “biggest concern” is that “Democrats will look at the results, and they'll see a landslide for Trump, and not like the results, and so as they have a chance to count ballots afterwards, they can then adjust the numbers.”
- On November 11, Rion aired a prerecorded interview in which she allowed Giuliani to push baseless allegations about “crooked ballots” while making her own debunked claims, such as that “keeping the poll watchers from seeing the ballots counting was the easiest way to cheat the system” in the key state of Pennsylvania.
- The following day, Rion reported that according to Giuliani, “Michigan is very much in play” before airing more prerecorded footage of his claims, which she described as Giuliani “laying out a clear picture of how an entire state was stolen by crooked Democrats.”
- In a November 18 interview, Rion praised Giuliani’s takeover of Trump’s legal team, calling it “a streamlined restructuring” and a “strategic move" to “replace a weaker and more scattered collection of big law firms across the country."
- Following a November 19 press conference with Trump’s legal team that was littered with inaccuracies and conspiracy theories, Rion heaped praise, saying: “A leaner, meaner guerilla team of legal all stars for the Trump campaign unveiled what they call a clear pathway to victory."
Rion also led OAN’s investigation into the debunked, QAnon-originated Dominion Voting Systems conspiracy theory, and her coverage has been echoed by Trump.
- On November 12, Rion released an OAN report summarizing a conspiracy theory that had been circulating in the QAnon online ecosystem regarding the Dominion voting machines used in several swing states. The report featured Ron Watkins, who is a QAnon supporter and former administrator for 8kun, a relaunched version of the shuttered 8chan site owned by his father. Watkins resigned from 8kun on Election Day before pivoting to falsely claiming to have insider details into how machines can switch votes from Biden to Trump.
- On November 17, Rion released an interview with Colorado-based far-right media figure Joe Oltmann, who claimed to be a “whistleblower” who “infiltrated an antifa conference call this past September and accidentally came upon a top Dominion Voting Systems executive named Eric Coomer."
- Giuliani called on Rion during the Trump legal team’s November 19 press conference; her question referenced “allegations of voter fraud and election fraud” in key states, and she asked, “Where is our FBI?” Following the event, OAN announced a Dominion “Results Tally & Reporting User Guide" on the network’s website.
- On November 21, OAN released a special featuring Rion, titled “One America News Investigates: ‘Dominion-izing’ the vote.” The program featured extended interviews with both Watkins and Oltmann. In it, Rion falsely asserted that Dominion’s “antifa-drenched engineers are hellbent on deleting half of America's voice” and that Dominion’s 2014 partnership with the Clinton Foundation was proof of this grand conspiracy to change votes. Trump and his campaign amplified the program on Twitter, tagging Rion and OAN’s accounts.
In addition to interviewing Giuliani and pushing the baseless Dominion conspiracy theory, Rion has also pushed other pro-Trump election propaganda. Many of these claims overlap with the right’s “deep state” conspiracy theories, which claim that a cabal of anti-Trump elitists, unelected bureaucrats, and national institutions are constantly working to destroy Trump.
- On November 4, Rion interviewed then-Trump attorney and QAnon supporter Sidney Powell, who warned of the “many multifaceted efforts the Democrats are making to steal the vote”; Rion also claimed that “leftist rioters” are “planning a coup right after this election.”
- The following day, Rion pushed a debunked conspiracy theory claiming that Arizona ballots had been invalidated through the use of Sharpie markers that were intentionally given to Trump voters.
- After a U.S. Postal Service “whistleblower” recanted his allegation that postal workers in Pennsylvania were instructed to tamper with mail-in ballots -- a debunked conspiracy theory which had been boosted by Republicans and right-wing media -- Rion reported that a “federal agent pressured” him to “update the bombshell testimony,” claiming that he was “bullied” and “harassed” by “federal agents’ intimidation tactics.”
- A November 11 report from Rion featured a multitude of clips from Giuliani making false claims of voter fraud in an attempt to explain how Democrats cheated in the election en masse.
Rion’s other coverage on OAN
In addition to election-related disinformation, Rion has spent her time at OAN pushing an onslaught of pro-Trump propaganda, often free of facts and relying on figures like Giuliani as sources.
Along with her colleagues, Rion’s early coverage of the pandemic prioritized spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories.
- In March, OAN aired a coronavirus special called “Exposing China's Coronavirus: The Fears, The Lies and The Unknown.” During that program, Rion suggested that the novel coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic may have originated in a North Carolina laboratory.
- In a March 29 interview discussing the early response to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, Rion warned against flattening the curve “too much” and questioned if the country was, “from a medical perspective, overreacting to this virus.” Rion also suggested that “reactionary policies can make this virus last longer than it should.”
- As the Trump administration began to hold frequent press conferences addressing the pandemic, Rion gained attention by openly flouting the White House press corps’ COVID-19 requirements for social distancing and mask wearing. She was ultimately banned from being seated with the White House Correspondents Association, but was allowed to remain standing in the back at Trump’s request. During Trump’s press conferences, she would tee him up with bizarrely friendly questions, once even accusing the “major left-wing media” of colluding “with Chinese Communist Party narratives” to smear him.
- In April, Rion teamed up with OAN correspondent Caitlin Sinclair and produced an OAN pandemic special titled, “One America News Investigates: Coronavirus: Treating the Terror.” She interviewed Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn about hydroxychloroquine and pushed the antimalarial drug as a potential cure for coronavirus, saying that its current trials “show promise as the silver bullet for COVID-19.” Rion also promoted the work of French microbiologist Dr. Didier Raoult, who drew criticism from medical experts and researchers over his promotion of the drug.
- On April 25, Rion reported that the “Chinese-born COVID-19 virus” is “not as infectious as we first thought.” Rion also cast doubt on reports of the virus’s 3.5% infection rate, arguing that it’s actually closer to 0.4%.
Joe and Hunter Biden conspiracy theories
- Rion has been extensively involved in pushing unfounded corruption allegations against the Biden family. Amid the unfolding Ukraine scandal in late-2019 that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment, Rion traveled to Ukraine with Giuliani to film a multipart series that aimed to defend the president and bolster smears against the Bidens. The series was filled with disinformation and criticized as a “stunning piece of propaganda.”
- In June, OAN was accused of peddling Russian propaganda after Rion dubiously claimed to have several hours of secret recordings of then–Vice President Biden’s conversations with Ukrainian officials.
- In the months leading up to the 2020 election, Rion took charge of reporting on Hunter Biden, using sources like Giuliani to try to tank Joe Biden's campaign for president by miring it in scandal. Rion ran a series on OAN titled the “Biden Bribe Tapes” and pushed the New York Post’s story on the “bombshell new emails” supposedly from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
- In an October interview with Giuliani, Rion suggested the smears against Hunter Biden included allegations of pedophilia, claiming that photos from the hard drive “have not and will not likely be published due to their graphic nature.”
- On October 29, Rion pushed a report that “the dominos of former Biden associates are falling” to reveal “the Biden web of money laundering” and claimed “Joe Biden received up to 50% of Hunter’s cut” from business dealings with Russia.
General disinformation and propaganda
- In August, Rion had an extensive interview with Trump which largely served as a platform to complain about perceived media bias against his administration. The interview included questions from Rion such as: “Do you think these attacks against you in that briefing room, are they organic questions from individual free-thinking people? Or do you think these people are journalists who are afraid to lose their jobs if they don’t attack you every day?”
- Rion has frequently pushed conspiracy theories and launched attacks against liberal donor George Soros, who is a frequent target of right-wing, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
- Rion has also embraced the right’s “deep state” conspiracy theory; in a September segment, she said that the story around recently reported FBI documents “perfectly illustrates for the White House, and for the president, that they indeed have been fighting what they have long called ‘the deep state’ -- that is a weaponized bureaucracy, a weaponized FBI that has been fighting and fighting and fighting this White House.”
- On May 29, Rion amplified a debunked conspiracy theory boosted by Trump that claimed MSNBC host Joe Scarborough covered up the death of an aide 20 years ago when he served as a Republican member of Congress in Florida. Rion said the incident “seems more than just an accident.”
- In May, Rion interviewed anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer about social media’s “censorship” of conservatives, calling her an “investigative journalist” who was “deplatformed for her work calling out the left” and promoting her failed congressional campaign’s fundraising efforts as “a national reflection of the support to fight Big Tech censorship.