AT&T is having a bad day after the first part of bombshell Reuters exposé uncovered the company’s extensive involvement in helping to create and fund the far-right conspiracy theory outlet One America News Network.
My colleague and OAN expert Bobby Lewis breaks the story down here.
Since the news of its support for OAN broke, AT&T has been in the press defending itself and trying to spin away its direct involvement in order to minimize the brand damage. The company’s statement, issued to The Hill and Deadline, is filled with half-truths and misdirections. Here’s a quick fact check:
CLAIM: “AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN.”
FACT: No one would have any financial interest in OAN were it not for AT&T's early and ongoing support for the company. Per Reuters, "Ninety percent of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.” If that’s not what “funding” something looks like, I don’t know what does.
CLAIM: “When AT&T acquired DIRECTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DIRECTV as a result.”
FACT: The Reuters article also covers this lawsuit. According to the report, the case was settled on undisclosed terms -- but a month later, OAN and another network owned by its founder and CEO Robert Herring began airing on DirecTV and have continued to ever since. This stipulation is pure spin and misdirection.
CLAIM: “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.”
FACT: OAN was one of the preferred right-wing sources directly cited by former President Donald Trump to back up his authoritarian claim that the 2020 election was stolen, ultimately resulting in deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The stakes of renewing a far-right propaganda outlet like OAN are not comparable to those “hundreds of other channels” that did not play a role in inciting an insurrection.
CLAIM: “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.”
FACT: Another misdirection -- OAN’s critics are not suggesting AT&T controls its programming. Rather, OAN would not exist were it not for AT&T’s financial support and distribution, as well as support from close personal relationships between the Herring family, which owns the network, and AT&T executives. Even worse, Reuters reports that Herring “has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives.”
“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”
Since manufacturing the demand, AT&T has been the primary distributor for OAN’s indiscriminate lies, racism, and conspiracy theories being blasted into the homes of millions of its subscribers. OAN’s programming is completely out of control, and AT&T, which is in the best position to rein in this threat to democracy, has actively decided against doing so.
CLAIM: “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.”
FACT: AT&T is trying to minimize the damage to its core brand identity by attempting to shove the scandal off to another company. While DirecTV is now its own company following a spin-off deal earlier this year, AT&T owns 70% of it and has two representatives on the board.
Try as they might, the burden of this scandal lies squarely on the shoulders of AT&T executives.