By:
October 7, 2021

One America News Network might not have the viewers of some of the major cable news networks such as CNN or Fox News. But it is well known for one thing:

Its unwavering, almost cult-like support of former President Donald Trump.

Terms such as “far right” and “conservative” don’t go far enough in describing OAN’s ideology. Compared to OAN, Fox News almost looks liberal. And that’s what OAN has tapped into for the past few years — they’re the network for those who don’t think Fox News is conservative enough. They see themselves as the network for the true Trump supporters. They want to be the network that stands up for those who (falsely, it should be noted) believe in the baseless conspiracies about a rigged 2020 presidential election and COVID-19.

So where did OAN come from? How and why did it get started?

On Wednesday, Reuters’ John Shiffman dropped a bombshell: OAN has been backed by AT&T.

Shiffman wrote, “OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr. has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives.”

In a deposition seen by Reuters, Herring said, “They told us they wanted a conservative network. 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.”

AT&T’s involvement, according to Reuters, was more than just a suggestion. Reuters reported that the world’s largest communications company provided “tens of millions of dollars in revenue.” It said that 90% of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned TV platforms, including DirecTV. Shiffman reported that one accountant said under oath that without the DirecTV deal, OAN’s value “would be zero.”

AT&T is pushing back. In a statement to Deadline’s Dade Hayes, AT&T said it “never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN. When AT&T acquired DirecTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DirecTV as a result. 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.”

The statement also said DirecTV “does not dictate or control programming on the channels. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

Now let’s be clear again: OAN, while known, doesn’t play on the same field as the cable news giants. But it did gain some traction during Trump’s presidency. Reuters’ estimated that Trump tweeted about OAN around 120 times during his final two years in office. During an infamous coronavirus press conference, OAN’s Chanel Rion started to ask a question and Trump said, “OAN — they treat me very nice.”

According to the network itself, OAN had its best ratings in 2020 as the presidential campaign ramped up and after the election when Trump started spouting off about election fraud. It is not a part of the Nielsen ratings, so exact viewers aren’t known, but it’s believed to be just a small fraction of the numbers that watch Fox News or CNN. The Reuters story said the OAN website averages 8 million visits a month from desktop and mobile users.

Somewhat interesting, AT&T also owns Warner Media, which includes CNN. As the Reuters story points out, “​​AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and in August spun off the satellite service, retaining a 70% share in the new, independently managed company.”

Writing for the liberal Media Matters for America, Bobby Lewis wrote, “OAN and all of its lies would not exist, and could not survive, without AT&T’s blessing. Whatever the figure AT&T has paid to help keep OAN alive, the network has been using the airwaves to push toxic — and often dangerous — misinformation.”

Accepting a friendly request?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. (zz/DJ/AAD/STAR MAX/IPx)

Earlier this week, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about the damage Facebook has knowingly done to our democracy, as well as the negative impact it has on some of its users.

Now Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal — chairman of the subcommittee — wants to hear from Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg. Speaking on CNN’s “New Day,” Blumenthal said Facebook is facing a “Big Tobacco moment” and it’s time for Zuckerberg to speak beyond the statement to staff that he posted on Facebook Tuesday night.

“We will be asking him to come testify before our subcommittee,” Blumenthal told CNN’s Brianna Keilar. “If he has disagreements with Frances Haugen, if he wants to explain these documents — thousands of them, his own research, his own reports that show how they are putting profits ahead of people and endangering children — he should come tell it to our committee and to the American people.”

Blumenthal said he hopes Zuckerberg will come forward in the coming weeks, but added, “I can’t tell you whether he will accept, but I think Mark Zuckerberg has an obligation to tell the American people himself, not just in this message to his employees.”

Here are the receipts

You’ve seen and heard about the scenes at schools across the country. Parents yelling at school board members, teachers, school officials and other parents (and, in some cases, threatening and actually making physical contact) because they are upset about mask requirements in schools.

Yet, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), among some other Republican lawmakers, seems indignant that the Justice Department wants to increase the monitoring of threats across the nation. Hawley thinks it’s a way to stifle the free speech of those parents who want to argue against mask mandates.

But on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show, “All In,” Hawley was made to look like a fool as the show sprinkled in video and news reports of disturbing behavior from schools — all while Hawley seemed to argue that the DOJ was overreacting.

Here’s the video.

Hayes said, “Josh Hawley’s very upset. We’re going to send him that montage just to read him into a little bit of what’s been going on at the local level, but I suspect he knows.”

Champion for women

In Wednesday’s newsletter, I had an item about ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Sage Steele, who made some controversial remarks on a podcast with former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. Steele criticized ESPN’s vaccine mandate as “sick” and “scary,” and questioned why former President Barack Obama identified as Black because his Black father didn’t help raise him.

Another comment Steele made, which I didn’t mention Wednesday, was about women in the sports media business.

“When you dress like that,” Steele told Cutler, “I’m not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you’re doing when you’re putting that outfit on, too.”

Steele’s former ESPN colleague Cari Champion appeared on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday and expressed disappointment in Steele’s remarks and said her comments about Obama were “disrespectful.”

Steele did put out a statement this week apologizing for those remarks.

Regarding Steele’s comments about how women in sports media dress, Champion said, “That’s dumb. I don’t have any other eloquent way to say that. She clearly has issues with women … her statements, while being anti-Black … probably would not have been a big issue, but now she’s anti-woman and that’s a big no-no. This business, in particular, which is a male-dominated business, really doesn’t lend itself to be friendly towards women. So if you have a woman who’s at the top of her game saying she’s not going to help another woman because of the way she’s dressed — all that does is push us further down.”

Champion worked at ESPN from 2012 to 2020 and now co-hosts a show with Jemele Hill for VICE TV.

For more, including video of Champion’s comments, check out the story by Mediaite’s Brandon Contes.

Additions at the LA Times

The Los Angeles Times announced Wednesday that Samantha Melbourneweaver, a three-year veteran of the Times, is being promoted to assistant managing editor for audience.

In addition to that announcement, executive editor Kevin Merida and managing editor Kimi Yoshino wrote, “We will add 15 positions — nine to grow the core audience team and an additional six aimed at producing lively, original content that will pop on social platforms from Twitter to Instagram to TikTok and beyond. This new squad of internet storytellers — our ‘meme team’ — will experiment with form and voice, starting conversations with their content, building online communities and establishing new relationships between the L.A. Times and people who may not currently think of us as a part of their world. This is a major investment in our digital growth and a critical step toward attracting new readers. The expansion will benefit the entire newsroom and every area of our coverage. In total, the positions include audience and social media editors, SEO and news aggregator producers, social content creators and a user-generated content expert.”

Good guy of the day

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

That honor goes to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Let me explain.

In years past, the National Football League required that head coaches do a conference call with reporters from the team they were playing against that week. But this year, the league made it nonmandatory.

This week, Tomlin’s Steelers are playing the Denver Broncos and Tomlin did participate in the conference call with Denver media. He was asked why.

He said, “Because I want to support my beat guys and if my beat guys are being accommodated then I will take care of the opposing team and I just think that’s the right approach to have. We’re all in the same ecosystem and, obviously, our agendas are different, but I’ve got respect for the work our people have to do and so, if they’re being taken care of then I intend to always take care of the opposing media market and that will always be my approach.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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