How OAN covered the lead-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

OAN on the Ukraine crisis: Everything Biden does shows weakness but is also a carefully engineered distraction. And this is all green energy’s fault.

OAN host Dan Ball expressively shrugging mid-sentence. Chyron reads "Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine"

This week, the Russian government launched an invasion of Ukraine, eight years after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the beginning of an ongoing pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. 

On One America News Network, much like the rest of right-wing media, most coverage of the lead-up to the Russian invasion loosely orbited around criticism of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for their supposed weakness, or for allegedly using the crisis to distract from policy failures. 

Other, less-common but still notable commentary on OAN mainly coalesced around three narratives: criticizing Ukrainian sovereignty, incorrectly predicting that Russia would not invade, and blaming European dependence on “green energy.” 

Complaining that President Biden looks “weak”

Perhaps the largest single topic of OAN’s pre-invasion commentary was a wide array of complaints that Biden and the United States looked “weak,” as opposed to the alleged strength of former President Donald Trump.

OAN’s Dan Ball: “You see poor Joe, obviously in cognitive decline, are you going to take him seriously when you're a former KGB killer like Putin, or are you just going to do whatever the hell you want?” Ball predicted that “it’s going to be open season” on U.S. allies who fear an attack from powerful enemies because “we look weak as hell with this man in the White House.”

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Citation From the February 22, 2022, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball

OAN’s Stephanie Hamill: “Obviously our enemies see weakness in the White House, and that is Biden.” The host of In Focus complained that another example of this “weakness” was Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which she suggested emboldened Putin to invade. Her guest, Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), concurred that Putin took advantage of “the weakness in the White House.”

OAN’s Natalie Harp: “Putin has respect for President Trump … . On the other hand, Biden is weak and ineffective. And Putin knows that as well.” The former Trump advisory board member and host of The Real Story suggested that Trump’s “ability to stand behind his word” somehow prevented an earlier invasion, while also complaining that Vice President Kamala Harris’ “desperate attempts to be relevant … continue to undermine American authority.”  

Harp: “Afghanistan started all of this. Because once all of these leaders saw the way that Biden totally botched that … it just opened the door to all of this.” Harp complained that Russian aggression in Ukraine “all goes back to Afghanistan. We’ve shown weakness, and everybody is alerted to it now and they’re taking advantage of that.” Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) concurred that the Afghanistan withdrawal “shows weak leadership and emboldens our enemies.” 

Hamill complained that a photo of the National Security Council wearing masks was so “unserious” as to undermine confidence in the U.S. response. Hamill claimed that “they issued that official tweet to show strength, but … it did the opposite.” As Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) further explained, the NSC’s “face diapers” showed that “they’re trying to project fear at the same time they’re trying to project strength.” 

Complaining that Biden is “distracting from policy failures”

Nearly as common as the weakness attacks were claims that Biden used the crisis in Ukraine to distract Americans from any number of “policy failures,” notably including the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

OAN’s Dan Ball: “It’s a pageant, folks. That’s what we’re witnessing.” Ball elaborated that “this is political theater at its best, or actually, its worst,” comparing Biden’s Ukraine response to the 1997 film Wag the Dog, about a president who decides to “fake a war” to distract the media from his scandals. Ball predicted that “Joe’s plan to divert attention away from his total failure as liar in chief isn’t going to fly with the American public.”

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Citation From the February 2, 2022, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball

A regular OAN guest called Biden’s responses “propaganda” because “his ratings are in the toilet. … Of course there’s got to be some kind of scapegoat.” Shea Bradley-Farrell, a regular panelist on host Christina Bobb’s Weekly Briefing, appeared to be claiming that Biden made Putin into a “scapegoat” for inflation and high gas prices.  

OAN guest: “The Biden administration wants to distract from their domestic policy failures.” Jake Bequette, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, claimed that Putin “sees Biden as a weak and feckless commander-in-chief — that’s obviously one of the main consequences of last year’s Afghanistan debacle,” before going on to complain about NATO allies’ contributions to military defense. 

OAN guest: Biden is “trying to pin all the country’s disasters that are going on right now on this impending, self-created Ukraine crisis. I mean, this is basically their distraction.” Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republican Club, told Tipping Point that Western leaders were “looking for anything, anything, to get the public’s attention off of them and on to something else, and if it means a war, it means a war. This is how they think in D.C.” 

Criticizing Ukrainian sovereignty  

A handful of OAN’s pre-invasion commentary undermined Ukrainian sovereignty, either by promoting Putin’s supposed “legitimate claim in the region” against NATO, or by simply denying that Ukraine is anything more than a place for western elites to launder money -- in the latter case, suggesting that nobody should care. 

OAN host Dan Ball: Putin has “a legitimate claim to that region.” Citing discussions with Russian Americans, Ball qualified his statement by saying that he’s “not trying to make [Putin] seem like the good guy here, but he does have a legitimate claim to that region” with regard to self-defense against NATO “encroaching” on Russian territory. 

OAN guest: “Ukraine is not a real country, by the way,” just “a giant money-pot laundering scheme for the elites.” The Federalist’s Josiah Lippincott complained that “ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, the Ukraine turned into a giant money-pot laundering scheme for the elites … a source of all kinds of problems” and “bizarre, international, just bizarre stuff,” therefore “we need to stay out.” 

Incorrectly predicting there would be no Russian invasion of Ukraine

Some OAN guests made the prediction that Russia was not interested in invading Ukraine, but only in taking advantage of the regional instability. These predictions proved false.

Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told OAN that “Putin has no interest in invading Ukraine.” Papadopoulos claimed that Putin would be “fine” with NATO influence in western Ukraine, and Russian influence in the east. “This is going to prevent a war,” Papadopoulos said. OAN reporter Chanel Rion did note that “while Putin may not be interested, that doesn’t nix the possibility that Russia may still invade.”

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Citation From February 19, 2022, coverage on One America News Network

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) told OAN, “This is just Putin trying to flex his strength and muscle.” After host Stephanie Hamill asked “who do we believe” about conflicting reports of Russian military buildups or withdrawals, and Nehls told her that Putin is “doing a lot of saber rattling here ... exploiting President Biden and his weakness.” Nehls did not appear to believe an invasion was likely, though he said “we certainly hope that Russia does not go into the Ukraine.”

Blaming “green energy” for emboldening Russian aggression

Some OAN commentary focused on German dependence on Russia for natural gas, which network employees and guests call “green energy.” Although the German government officially considers natural gas plants with emissions below a certain threshold “green,” natural gas is a fossil fuel that has become a driving force of climate change

OAN guest: “If Germany didn’t go completely head over heels over green energy, things would be a lot different.” Sumantra Maitra, an occasional contributor for The Federalist, told OAN’s Tipping Point that “Germany is one of the primary countries which is responsible” for the Ukraine crisis, for deciding to “destroy their own nuclear energy sector” and fall in love with “green energy” -- a reference to Russian-supplied natural gas.

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Citation From the February 22, 2022, edition of OAN's Tipping Point

OAN’s Chanel Rion: “This green energy plan has ironically rendered Germany more reliant on foreign oil.” Reporting on U.S. attempts to leverage the since-canceled Nord Stream 2 pipeline against Russia, Rion reported that Germany’s shutting down of nuclear and coal power plants left the country in need of Russian oil -- “a need President Trump warned NATO against three years ago.” Rion concluded that German refusal to threaten the pipeline “did not bolster de-escalation hopes.”

OAN guest Fred Fleitz: “After this terrible year of the disastrous withdraw from Afghanistan, Biden's ridiculous foreign policy that’s focused on climate change … all of our enemies are watching this.”