OAN Stars Bolt for Newsmax as Pro-Trump Network Reaches New Levels of Bonkers
In recent months, Newsmax has quietly poached some top OAN talent who, insiders said, sought either bigger audiences or a move away from the MAGA channel’s epic nuttiness.
As the two fringe cable TV outlets battle for former President Donald Trump’s affections, several high-profile One America News staffers have jumped ship to Newsmax—not just in pursuit of a larger audience, insiders said, but also as a respite from OAN’s increasing extremism.
Already known for its cartoonishly bonkers MAGA propagandizing, OAN in recent months has veered even further into unhinged right-wing territory. And Newsmax—which is often just as obsequiously pro-Trump in its commentary—has pulled back on its wildest election conspiracy theories while hoovering up some of OAN’s top on-air talent: news anchor Alex Salvi, correspondent Jenn Pellegrino, and reporter Amanda Brilhante. Those moves followed Newsmax poaching OAN’s White House correspondent Emerald Robinson last year.
Pellegrino, who served as a White House correspondent and on-air host for OAN, abruptly left the far-right channel earlier this month, only for Newsmax to announce her debut as co-anchor of a 9 p.m. ET program called Cortes and Pellegrino, co-hosted by former Trump campaign senior adviser Steve Cortes.
In late March, meanwhile, Salvi—one of OAN’s rare “straight news” anchors—revealed during his media-focused show After Hours that he was exiting the network after hosting since 2019. A few weeks later, Salvi quietly showed up on Newsmax, revealing his new role as a Rome-based foreign correspondent with the network. Brilhante, who’d been with OAN since graduating college in 2017, was hired away in February to be Newsmax’s breaking news reporter.
The Newsmax poaching of One America News staffers has come as OAN struggles with an ostensible exodus of talent. Network president Charles Herring recently acknowledged to The New York Times that the already thinly staffed network has lost more than a dozen staffers in recent months.
“We are not surprised that other networks target OAN as a goal to reach and look to hire our staff, thinking it might improve their ratings,” Herring said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
According to insiders—including current Newsmax staffers—who spoke with The Daily Beast, the uptick in OAN staffers abandoning ship can be chalked up to the network’s minuscule ratings, its lower pay, and the fact that Newsmax is only ever-so-slightly less toxic in its diehard MAGA politics.
“They left for more exposure. There is less reach at OAN,” one current Newsmax employee told The Daily Beast of the Salvi and Pellegrino jumps to the network, noting that OAN has “always been a revolving door.” The source specifically cited Tomi Lahren as the prime example of a right-wing figure using OAN as a career launch pad—in her case, eventually landing at Fox News.
“I’m sure the idea of coming to a startup and making a name for yourself at a place where you have the chance to become, say, the next Sean Hannity is very appealing to young talent,” one current Newsmax staffer said. “Especially for talent coming from one conservative network to another.”
Another insider was more direct: “Newsmax probably pays more… they have a much bigger name and have gotten a lot of press over the last year-and-a-half or so. And lastly, they’re not quite as extreme as OAN. So, it’s a safer place.”
Reached for comment, Herring took the opportunity to swipe at Newsmax for filling its on-air roster with former OAN and Fox News personalities. “OAN’s talent pool is deep and strong,” he said. “OAN has developed a solid reputation of nurturing and building talent—not taking the path of hiring former talent that may have fallen out of favor or ran into issues at a prior national news network.”
Following the 2020 presidential election, Newsmax experienced explosive growth in viewership by directly appealing to disgruntled MAGA holdouts who were incensed with Fox News for acknowledging Joe Biden’s election win over Trump. While Newsmax’s ratings have since precipitously fallen, along with the rest of cable news, the network still pulls in far more viewers than it did pre-election, averaging roughly 150,000 total viewers per day.
While available in roughly 35 million households—less than half of Newsmax’s reach—OAN’s daily television ratings are largely a mystery as it doesn’t subscribe to Nielsen Research’s service. However, when Nielsen briefly measured One America News in spring 2019, the network only averaged 14,000 total daily viewers.
Herring, however, disputed claims that his station’s ratings are minuscule. Citing “set top box data from AT&T,” which he called “gold standard for measurement,” the OAN president told The Daily Beast that his network was the fourth-rated national cable-news channel in the first quarter of 2021 and that “OAN consistently outperforms Newsmax by a large margin,” according to that data.
While Newsmax, much like OAN, went all-in with peddling Team Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims, it has somewhat pulled back on such denialism in recent months. (Though giving Cortes—who still loudly backs Trump’s false election claims—a primetime show would suggest the network could be wavering on that stance.)
In late November, for example, Newsmax aired several fact-checking segments pushing back on its own dishonest election coverage after voting-software company Smartmatic threatened legal action. An employee of Dominion, another voting-software firm at the center of MAGA conspiracy theories, dropped a defamation suit against Newsmax after the network publicly apologized and confirmed there was no evidence for the baseless claims the channel promoted.
OAN, on the other hand, has not only continued to traffic in baseless conspiracies and claims about the election, but has seemingly doubled down in recent weeks.
Despite facing the same specter of defamation lawsuits that have plagued other conservative media outlets for pushing debunked election falsehoods, One America News has partnered up with Trump-boosting pillow magnate Mike Lindell—who has been sued by Dominion—to air his so-called “docu-movies” that purportedly prove voting machines flipped millions of votes from Trump to Biden. (Needless to say, the experts and evidence Lindell presented in these films left a lot to be desired.)
Besides handing over hours of airtime to Lindell so he can peddle fantasies that Trump is still president, the channel has also used Lindell as a cudgel against Newsmax in an attempt to appeal to pro-Trump viewers. After a Newsmax anchor literally walked out of an interview with Lindell when the pillow mogul wouldn’t stop ranting about voting machines, OAN publicly declared war on its cable-news rival for “censoring” the MyPillow CEO. (Interestingly enough, it was Pellegrino who aired that segment, calling out Newsmax for repeatedly “muzzling” Lindell before asking: “Newsmax touts itself as real news for real people. But is this yet another case of a so-called ‘fair and unbiased’ network being swept up by leftist censorship?”)
Outside of pandering to Lindell, who has urged his supporters to boycott Newsmax for settling its Dominion lawsuit, OAN has also played an integral part in Arizona Republicans’ latest scheme to discredit Biden’s victory in the state. Not only has OAN been given “exclusive” broadcasting rights of the so-called election audit—which features a conspiracy-minded company using UV lights and searching ballots for bamboo fibers—one of the channel’s hosts has helped fund it.
Christina Bobb, who also assisted Trump’s long-shot legal effort to overturn the election while working for OAN, launched a nonprofit organization in April to raise money to help pay for the audit. And following Biden’s inauguration, Bobb also ran an “investigative” piece in February titled “The Arizona Election Heist,” in which she wrongly claimed there were nearly 12,000 more ballots counted in Maricopa County than registered voters. (In actuality, there were a little more than two million ballots cast—80 percent of the county’s legal voters.)
OAN’s full-throttled push to deny Biden’s election victory was legitimate has drawn applause from Trump himself, who has used the network’s recent promotion of the Arizona audit to explicitly call out Newsmax for largely ignoring it.
“Newsmax has been virtually silent on this subject because they are intimidated by threats of lawsuits. One America News (OAN), one of the fastest growing networks on television, and the ‘hottest’, is doing a magnificent job of exposing the massive fraud that took place,” Trump wrote in a statement on his personal website. “The story is only getting bigger and at some point it will be impossible for the weak and/or corrupt media not to cover. Thank you to OAN and other brave American Patriots.”
Trump also falsely claimed in the same online tirade that the entire Maricopa County election database had been “DELETED,” prompting the county’s Republican recorder—who is in charge of this recount—to call the ex-president “unhinged” and urging Republicans to no longer “indulge these insane lies.” Maricopa County’s Board of Elections would later call on Arizona Senate Republicans to end the audit “for the good of the country,” noting that Cyber Ninjas—the private company conducting the audit—is incompetent, lying, and miscounting ballots.
As The New York Times reported last month, OAN’s penchant for pushing Trump-friendly conspiracies and misinformation caused some of the network’s staff to raise internal concerns. Furthermore, much of the network’s staff is also made up of young college graduates, a demographic that tends to lean more liberal and progressive.
Therefore, following the Capitol insurrection spurred on by Trump’s months-long campaign to discredit Biden’s election win, more than a dozen staffers fled from the channel.
“Occasionally OAN has talent that are eager to move up, but we simply don’t have immediate openings in desired positions or our management feels more development time is needed,” Herring claimed to The Daily Beast. “This can create a mutually beneficial opportunity for talent to move to another network or segment in news. With respect to talk shows, OAN has a limited number, as most of the schedule is filled with credible national and international news coverage, void of anchor commentary.”
One network insider told The Daily Beast that employees were nervous that OAN could find itself hit with expensive lawsuits by Smartmatic and Dominion for continuing to push the envelope with their election conspiracies. At the same time, Marty Golingan, an OAN producer who went on the record with the Times, said that some employees actually hoped the voting software firms would pull the trigger.
“A lot of people said, ‘This is insane, and maybe if they sue us, we’ll stop putting stories like this out,’” he told the Times. Golingan was subsequently fired by OAN.
One recent departee, meanwhile, let it be known that there was no love lost with OAN after leaving the far-right channel.
“I consider it a badge of honor to have left a network such as OAN as I head back to a newsroom built on ethics and integrity,” one former on-air personality declared to The Daily Beast.