Pillow Fight: The right-wing media competition for Mike Lindell’s affection (and money)

Mike Lindell

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters | Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Viewers who tune in to the far-right One America News Network on Friday will see a right-wing pillow impresario’s take on how the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. OAN is airing MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s two-hour disinfomercial on the subject, “Absolute Proof,” four times over the course of the day, making it the bulk of the channel’s programming from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

OAN’s credulous airing of a series of deranged election fraud conspiracy theories marks the latest salvo in a fierce competition between OAN and fellow right-wing cable channels Fox News and Newsmax as they vie for Lindell’s affections -- and his advertising dollars. The networks, which have all been sued or threatened with lawsuits for pushing false claims about the election, are risking additional legal exposure to win the pillow fight.

Lindell is a zealous Trump supporter who has considered a run for governor of Minnesota. His MyPillow company is one of Fox’s biggest advertisers, plowing millions of dollars into commercials on the network each week, particularly on the prime-time shows that many major brands have abandoned over their hosts’ virulent commentary. 

The pillow salesman is one of the most prominent peddlers of bogus conspiracy theories regarding the lie that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election, and last month he apparently used a personal meeting with then-President Donald Trump to urge him to use the military to subvert the results and stay in power. Lindell’s efforts have had repercussions:  backlash for his company; a threat of imminent litigation from Dominion Voting Systems, whose voting machines he falsely claims were used to rig the election; and a January 26 permanent ban from Twitter.

Since Lindell lost access to Twitter, Fox, Newsmax, and OAN have all eagerly provided him with access to their audiences. Fox star Tucker Carlson hosted him on the evening of his banning, giving the MyPillow CEO a sympathetic platform to push his Dominion conspiracy theories. In fact, Carlson, whose show’s commercial blocks are a barren wasteland overwhelmingly reliant on the pillow company’s advertisements, has repeatedly given Lindell pathetically sycophantic treatment. 

But Fox isn’t the only network that appreciates that plush pillow money. OAN and Newsmax also run commercials for Lindell’s company while hosting him as a pundit. Each channel is trying to steal market share from Fox by presenting itself as more pro-Trump and would doubtlessly appreciate additional ad revenue to bolster its bottom line.

But Lindell’s Tuesday afternoon appearance on Newsmax’s American Agenda presented a dilemma for the network. Lindell was apparently booked to discuss Twitter banning the MyPillow account, but instead he started claiming he had “100% proof” of “election fraud with these Dominion machines.” Dominion had previously threatened to sue Newsmax over its coverage, prompting co-anchor Bob Sellars to respond to Lindell that “we at Newsmax have not been able to verify any of those kinds of allegations,” mute him, read from an apparent legal disclaimer, and eventually walk off the set when Lindell refused to stop talking about election fraud.

The off-the-rails exchange went viral, received widespread coverage from mainstream media outlets, and triggered a backlash against Newsmax from some Trump supporters. And so on Wednesday, Sellers apologized, calling Lindell “a friend of this network” who “will continue to be an important guest.” He then aired a portion of an interview Lindell had done on Newsmax the night before in which Lindell praised the network. 

That wasn’t enough for OAN, which saw and took its opportunity to use the incident to condemn its competitor as insufficiently pro-Trump. On Wednesday night, the network lashed out at Newsmax for “censoring” Lindell.

And on Friday, in a bid that will be difficult for the other networks to top, OAN turned over its airwaves to Lindell for 8 hours, scheduling his video four times over the course of the day. Lindell has claimed that his film proves there was “a communist coup,” and it is filled with wild conspiracy theories and debunked lies

OAN’s lawyers do not seem entirely sanguine about what the network is doing. The network aired a lengthy disclaimer at the beginning stating that the show was paid programming and “opinion only” and stressing that OAN doesn't endorse its statements about Dominion and other parties named during it.

But like its rivals, the network is eager for Lindell’s cash, and it’s doing what it takes to get it.

Clarification (2/5/21): While Lindell had reportedly claimed the documentary would be three hours long earlier this week -- and OAN had promoted it as airing every three hours Friday -- the actual documentary that aired was only two hours long. The text of the piece has been revised.