Update (5/7/20): The president of One America News, Charles Herring, sent a letter to Media Matters taking issue with Sherman's reporting for Vanity Fair and asked that this report be removed as a consequence. We are declining to do so, and he did not take issue with any other fact in this piece, including that the White House correspondent for his network suggested that the novel coronavirus was created in a North Carolina laboratory.
Update (5/8/20): This post has been further updated to reflect changes in Vanity Fair's reporting.
Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported on that “an investor group aligned with” Donald Trump Jr. and the family of Republican National Committee co-chair Tommy Hicks is in “negotiations” for “a major stake” in the pro-Trump propaganda outlet One America News Network.
According to Sherman, President Donald Trump “loves that many Fox hosts are his loudest cheerleaders—but any deviation from Trumpian orthodoxy he views as betrayal. ... Trump’s view that Fox is insufficiently loyal has motivated him to look for a more reliable media partner."
OAN peddles nonstop pro-Trump propaganda, and the president praises the network in return
As John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight noted in early April, OAN is similar to “Fox News with even less shame and even fewer scruples.” Where Trump leads, OAN follows. When the president targeted football players like Colin Kaepernick for kneeling in protests during the national anthem, OAN claimed “uneducated, partisan, racialist football players” were “promoting violent, anti-American fascist groups.” When Trump was embroiled in the impeachment scandal about his attempts to force Ukraine to investigate his political rival, OAN ran interference, claiming that the president has people “from all walks of life coming together as Americans.”
Trump has regularly touted the network on Twitter. According to data compiled by the Trump Twitter archive, Trump has tagged OAN's Twitter handle 10 times in 2020 and 23 times in 2019. He has also retweeted the network 7 times in 2020 and 3 times in 2019; he additionally quote-tweeted the network twice in 2020 (one time tagging them as well). Trump also promoted the book by OAN host Liz Wheeler and has retweeted Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and OAN personality Jack Posobiec repeatedly.
News of this potential buyout comes a few weeks after the Trump administration hired OAN contributor Michael Caputo and just a few days after Trump promoted an OAN special by Caputo titled “The Ukraine Hoax” amid a flurry of OAN-related tweets and retweets.
The network’s involvement in Trump’s impeachment scandal
As Sherman noted, during Trump’s impeachment hearings, the network “distinguished itself by its brazen airing of pro-Trump propaganda.”
In December, OAN aired a three-part Ukraine special it recorded with the help of Trump’s personal attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the special, OAN senior White House correspondent Chanel Rion traveled to Ukraine to speak to officials who had been working with Giuliani to implicate presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden in a bizarre money-laundering plot.
OAN and Giuliani presented very little hard evidence in their “investigation,” but the talking point they manufactured — that Hunter Biden was laundering money via the Ukrainian energy shell corporation Burisma Holdings — has lived on in right-wing narratives. In a January interview with OAN host and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec about his Ukraine report, Caputo said he believes the president’s impeachment was not “just about Joe Biden, it [was] about keeping Hunter Biden out of prison.”
Posobiec has hosted his own Ukraine special for OAN in November implicating Hunter Biden in the Burisma conspiracy theory.
OAN used coronavirus briefings to push pro-Trump propaganda across multiple networks
Rion has become a noteworthy fixture at White House coronavirus briefings for her leading questions and praise of Trump and for seemingly receiving special treatment from the White House.
In mid-March — just a few days after she peddled a conspiracy theory suggesting the novel coronavirus may have been created in a North Carolina lab — Rion infamously asked Trump whether he considered it racist to use the phrase “Chinese food,” a callback to the president’s insistence in March on referring to the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus.” She then said that “some media players, just to oppose you, are consistently siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin gangs and cartels.”
While they existed, these briefings famously were carried live by multiple cable news networks. Many people noted the ridiculous questions.
On April 1, as the White House Correspondents’ Association attempted to implement social distancing in the small White House briefing room, the organization barred Rion from press briefings and explicitly called her out for attending them on days OAN was not assigned a seat. The next day, Rion showed up for the briefing again and said Trump’s then-press secretary Stephanie Grisham explicitly invited her to attend. The White House neither confirmed nor denied Rion’s claim.
More recently, during an April 27 press briefing, Rion told Trump that “there are reports circulating now” that his indicted former aide Michael Flynn “may well be fully exonerated this week” by internal notes from the FBI about the handling of his case, asking, “If that were the case, is there any reason why you would not bring him back into the administration?” Trump responded by praising Flynn and saying, “Let’s see what happens now.”
A few days later, after handwritten notes from FBI officials were released by Flynn’s lawyer, Trump said in a White House interview that the notes were a “total exoneration” for Flynn.