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AT&T Needs to ‘Immediately Sever Ties’ with OAN, Media Watchdog Says

One America News Network
(Image credit: OAN)

AT&T needs to “immediately sever ties” with One America News Network, according to Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of media watchdog Media Matters for America, after an exhaustive Reuters report detailing AT&T's inextricable and foundational role in building the controversial far-right media company. 

According to Reuters, which obtained deposition testimony from OAN executives, AT&T has contributed as much as 90% of OAN's revenue.  

Testifying in 2019 as part of a wrongful termination complaint filed by a former OAN producer, OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr. described a symbiotic relationship with AT&T, which he said helped will the media company into existence in 2013. 

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring testified. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [left-wing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”

According to other testimony provided by an OAN accountant during the same trial, 90% of OAN's revenue came from carriage agreements with AT&T‘s pay TV platforms, DirecTV and U-verse TV, Reuters reported

The accountant estimated that OAN received as much as $57 million from AT&T at that point, although an AT&T rep disputed that figure to Reuters. 

With Herring having testified that he was offered $250 million for OAN at one point, the accountant was asked how much the media company would be worth without those pay TV carriage agreements. 

”Zero,” he responded. 

Reuters‘ reporting of close ties to OAN comes as the media company is taking heat for backing former President Donald Trump‘s bogus accusations of fraud in the 2020 election, as well as OAN's sustained reporting of misinformation tied to COVID-19 and the vaccines made to stop it. 

For example, if you are one of the 8 million people who, on average, visit OAN's webpage each month, and you happened to do that on Wednesday, you saw a lead item that includes video from the “Health and Freedom Conference,” with speakers including disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a noted propagator of COVID-19-associated conspiracies, providing additional misinformation about vaccines. 

Meanwhile, OAN‘s San Diego-based parent, Herring Networks, is being sued by Dominion Voting for $1.6 billion for allegedly slandering the company’s voting technology amid its bogus election fraud reports. 

As described by Reuters, AT&T’s symbiotic relationship with Herring Networks, for which OAN is a subsidiary, dates back to the aughts, when Herring struggled to find carriage for opulent-lifestyle-themed cable network WealthTV, even complaining to the FCC about allegedly unfair business practices by pay TV operators. 

AT&T ultimately agreed to carry WealthTV on its U-verse platform, and later put OAN on the pay TV service, as well. In 2014, when AT&T agreed to pay $49 billion to acquire the much larger DirecTV, Herring helped salve issues with regulators, hiring his own D.C. lobbyist, meeting with FCC officials and signing proponent petitions ghostwritten by AT&T.

“Herring’s support of AT&T ran deep,” the Herrings’ lawyers wrote in court papers tied to the employment case. “Herring invited AT&T to utilize OAN’s news programs to cast a positive light on the acquisition and advocated for other issues affecting AT&T’s business.”

Speaking to Reuters, AT&T spokesperson Jim Greer responded, “We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

The recently spun off AT&T pay TV platforms, which are now 70% owned by the telecom in a joint venture with private equity firm TPG, represent OAN’s biggest carriage relationships. 

OAN is also carried by Verizon Fios and CenturyLink Prism, as well as cable operator GCI and virtual pay TV service Vidgo.