Robert Herring: OANN Does Not Support Sohn Nomination

One America News Network
(Image credit: OAN)

Turns out conservative cable channel One America News Network isn't backing Democrat Gigi Sohn for the FCC after all.

Network founder Robert Herring went on his own channel this week to make that clear after his son, Charles, came out in support of Sohn last month citing her efforts to get independent voices, including conservative ones, carriage on large distribution platforms. Charles Herring is president of the network, while his dad is CEO.

Chris Ruddy, founder of conservative network Newsmax, also supported Sohn for much the same reason, leading some to point out the strange bedfellows of progressive Sohn and those execs.

Sohn pointed to that support from the right during her nomination hearing and conservative Republican firebrand Ted Cruz (R-Texas) cited that support from conservative nets as giving him some comfort, though likely not enough to vote for her.

But after Charles Herring's endorsement, Robert said he had to "set something straight for the company." One thing that clearly triggered Robert Herring's rebuttal of his son was that Public Knowledge, which Sohn helped found and lead, but has not worked for in a number of years, called for AT&T to take OANN off the air over what the group said was its peddling of conspiracy theories and falsehoods. 

Herring held up a copy of the group's statement about the network as he said OANN did not support her. He said there was no way he or the company would ever support her and that she had never done anything for the company. "How my son decided he wanted to, I don't know," he said. "She shouldn't be anywhere near the FCC as far as I am concerned," saying she was trying to censor conservative outlets.

Another issue with Herring was Sohn's tweet, whose rhetoric she conceded at her nomination hearing was probably over the top, that Fox News was "state sponsored propaganda," a view not hers alone in the Democratic party. Herring said he had reached out to Fox to apologize for his son's endorsement and signaling he would reverse it.

Sohn was slammed by The Wall Street Journal in an editorial last month titled “A Media Censor for the FCC?” The question mark suggested the jury was still out, but the editorial appeared to be more of an exclamation point. It said her “strident partisanship” should disqualify her and that she “favors deploying the agency’s regulatory power to shackle broadband providers and silence conservative voices.”

As a top aide to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Sohn was a big advocate for the imposition of net neutrality rules and was no fan of Sinclair Broadcast Group for its perceived conservative bias (nor were many other Democrats).

Following that editorial, Charles Herring issued a statement on the OAN website saying while he was fully aware of her views he was "even more knowledgeable on her strong belief and advocacy for diversity in the programming lineup, especially in news, regardless of conflicts with her personal views.”

The Herrings for years has been fighting to get distributor shelf space for his networks, including asking the FCC for help.

Sohn's path to Senate confirmation would appear to be a rocky and uphill climb. For one thing, she must first be voted out of the Commerce Committee and will likely need every Democratic vote there is, which would include Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who progressive Democrats hammered--including paying for a billboard in her home state branding her "corrupt"--during the net neutrality debate for not voting to repeal the FCC's decision in 2017 to eliminate the net neutrality rules that Sohn stumped for under Wheeler. 

According to a source, supporters of Sohn have reached out to Sinema to make it clear Sohn did not support the billboard tactic. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.