AT&T played key role in founding far-right conspiracy agency OAN, channel chairman told court
The Reuters article said that in addition to playing a central role in its founding, AT&T remains a crucial source of revenue for the network today. The outlet cited sworn testimony in 2020 from an OAN accountant who said 90% of the channel’s revenue came from platforms owned by AT&T.
While CNN has been unable to review all of the court documents Reuters has obtained for its story, AT&T is OAN’s largest television distributor by far.
The outlet is known for pushing disinformation about the coronavirus and being a major proponent of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
But until Reuters released its report on Wednesday, little was known about AT & T’s role in creating the channel.
Herring filed a lawsuit in 2016 against AT&T, alleging that the company violated an agreement to broadcast its channel on DirecTV, which it owned at the time (AT&T still owns 70% of DirecTV, which was split into a stand-alone company ). In a court document in the lawsuit, which has been reviewed by CNN, Herring said that when considering starting a new cable channel, AT&T advised him to start a news network.
“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said in a 2019 deposition for a separate case. “They only had one, it was Fox News, and they had seven more from each other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped on it and built one. “
In the 2016 court document, Herring said an agreement worth approximately $ 100 million over five years was made with AT&T to broadcast its channel on DirecTV after AT&T finalized the acquisition of the provider. satellite, but he had given up.
In another document, also reviewed by CNN, Herring said AT&T even offered to take a 5% stake in his company and that that stake would secure OAN a place in DirecTV’s channel lineup.
The turnout never materialized, but AT&T eventually made a deal with OAN to broadcast it on DirecTV after the complaint was filed. The terms of this agreement have not been publicly disclosed.
In a statement, an AT&T spokesperson said, “AT&T has never had a financial stake in the success of OAN and does not ‘finance’ OAN. When AT&T acquired DIRECTV, we refused to transport OAN on this platform, and OAN sued DIRECTV accordingly. Four years ago, DIRECTV entered into a commercial distribution agreement with OAN, as it did with hundreds of other channels and as OAN did with the other television providers that broadcast its programming. “
“DIRECTV offers a wide variety of programs, including many news channels that offer a variety of views, but it does not dictate or control the programming of the channels,” the spokesperson added. “Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. The decision whether or not to renew the contract of carriage when it expires will rest with DIRECTV, which is now a separate company outside of AT&T.”
An AT&T spokesperson deflected when asked a series of CNN questions. When asked, for example, if AT&T had ever discussed acquiring a 5% stake in OAN, the spokesperson only said he had “never owned” the channel. And when asked if AT&T representatives had ever suggested that Herring set up a news channel, the spokesperson only replied that he initially “refused to broadcast” when he acquired DirecTV. .
“The only news network we ‘fund’ is CNN because it’s part of AT&T,” the spokesperson said. “Just like we do with MSNBC, Fox News and other news stations, we just have a commercial distribution agreement with OAN.”
Charles Herring, son of Robert Herring and chairman of the parent company of OAN, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
AT & T’s involvement in OAN drew heavy criticism on Wednesday after Reuters released its report.
“We are outraged to learn that AT&T has injected tens of millions of dollars into the NAO since the network was established,” said National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Derrick Johnson said. in a press release. “As a result, AT&T has caused irreparable damage to our democracy. The press should educate the American public with facts, not far-right propaganda and conspiracy theories.”
“We are sickened by these revelations,” Johnson added.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.