According to a new investigation, One America News Network, a far-right TV channel that continues to back false claims about the 2020 election and has promoted ineffective COVID-19 treatments, has received a big boost from Dallas-based telecom and media giant AT&T.
John Shiffman recently reported for Reuters about OANN, including its ties with AT&T.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about how payments from the DirecTV satellite network – formerly part of AT&T – provide most of OANN’s revenue, and how the channel’s owners believe AT&T encouraged OANN’s creation.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about OANN for those who haven’t seen it. What is it exactly, and who’s behind it?
John Shiffman: One America News Network is a television network that started in 2013, but it really didn’t become well-known as a conservative network until 2015 when it started carrying all of [former President Donald Trump’s] speeches and rallies live. It ended up signing a deal with AT&T, which at the time owned – and still does, to some degree – DirecTV – in April 2017, just after Trump was inaugurated. And they emerged as the leading purveyor of conspiracy theories, both about COVID-19 and about the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Could you say a little bit more about the AT&T connection? Is it just that AT&T carries this network, or is there something more?
When I started looking into One America News Network, I started looking through court filings and I found that according to court filings and sworn statements by Robert and Charles Herring, who are the owners of One America News, that they were speaking with AT&T executives and were considering adding a news station, or perhaps a boxing station. And they said that AT&T executives told them that a conservative network was needed – that they needed one to counter what they said were more liberal stations. And so they said in several sworn statements, depositions, court records – that AT&T suggested this and [that] they put together One America News.
You talked to some people who say AT&T is to OANN what the late Roger Ailes was to the growth of Fox News. What do they mean by that? Is AT&T directing guiding its coverage on OANN?
AT&T is pretty clear about this – what AT&T is doing is they have paid tens of millions of dollars between 2017 and the present. It is normal that you pay a network .That’s what cable companies and satellite companies do. You pay fees to broadcast various networks CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN. They all paid fees by cable and satellite companies. But what’s unusual here is that the OANN executives say that AT&T executives are the inspiration for this.
But the other unusual thing is what I found in some of the court testimony from OANN’s accountant. 90% of its revenues come from the AT&T deal. OANN struggle to get on other carriers, other satellite networks. And their lawyer said in court testimony that at one point last year, if OANN lost its deal with DirecTV/AT&T, it would go out of business tomorrow.
You write that at one time, AT&T even considered buying the network. When was that, and what happened?
In 2013 and 2014, AT&T considered buying a 5% stake in the network – actually the parent of two networks, [OANN and] one called AWE, a lifestyle Network, but it’s very, very obscure. And AT&T executives flew from Dallas to San Diego. They did some due diligence. There were meetings. They discussed it. At the end of the day, they decided to do a regular deal instead of AT&T taking a stake in the network and putting the programs on air. AT&T simply paid the fees, which are in the millions of dollars each year.
Has AT&T responded to your reporting?
They have. We spoke, obviously, with AT&T beforehand and before publication and know they said, ‘Look, we don’t control the content we have. We try to offer a wide variety of content to our consumers. They rejected the idea that they are funding OANN and say they are paying fees to carry OANN. But at the end of the day, those fees make up 90% of OANN’s budget, according to the testimony by the accountant.