If there’s one constant in the Trump presidency, it’s that he loves his television. Historically, that’s meant Fox “News” but more recently Donald Trump has met someone else, someone younger, blonder and dumber. Yes, One America News Network (OAN), which brought us “Betrayal at Benghazi: The Cost of Hillary Clinton’s Dereliction and Greed” during the 2016 election cycle, is Trump’s new favorite channel.
Any time Trump feels that Fox is being disloyal by interviewing a Democrat or reporting an inconvenient fact or just not being pro-Trump enough to satisfy him, he reminds Rupert that he is not opposed to dumping those who disappoint him, whether those be wives or news stations.
In May, Trump tweeted his “congratulations to @OANN on the great job you are doing and the big ratings jump (‘thank you President Trump’)!” In December, OAN gave Rudy Giuliani three hours of air time for a special series that promised to expose the “real” Ukraine conspiracy.
I wanted to see what people watching Trump’s favorite network, and the only one that airs all of his rallies in full, were being told about the world, but my first problem was that his network isn’t on my cable. So I visited The Daily Beast offices and camped in a hot, windowless video room to tune in.
The first thing I noticed watching OAN (“your nation, your news”) on Wednesday morning is that the larger national stories and the local crime ones all seem to get the same weight. But the local crime stories are not just any local crime stories; they seem selected and depicted to fit a Trumpy narrative. An update about a mentally ill black woman in New York who’d slapped three Hasidic women ran three times over the morning, along with stories on the coronavirus, Ukraine and the Democratic primary, and a weird one about a petition to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom. Checking OAN’s website, I saw that the network has run permutations on the petition story ,which is hardly even registering as a local story in California, where Newsom won office with more than 60 percent of the vote just 14 months ago, on Dec. 4, Dec. 18, Jan. 1, and Jan. 10.
Much of OAN’s coverage this morning was provided by blonde women wearing heavy make-up and very revealing clothing. In hour three, there was a brunette, which was jarring. The male anchors were mostly brunettes, and were dressed normally, like they were going to an office rather than a pageant.
Mixed in with the news coverage were interviews with Reps. John Ratcliffe and Debbie Lesko, who seemed like they were still working on their interview chops and weren’t yet ready for Fox. Plus Pizzagate truther Jack Posobiec, who’s an OAN correspondent now, interviewing Trump’s campaign communication director, who said that “the president’s campaign gets bigger and stronger.” I felt myself growing dumber and dumber.
By the time OAN switched over to the question-and-answer session at Trump’s Senate trial, which had hardly come up in five hours of its news coverage, I had the idea: The world is scary, California is filled with dangerous homeless people, Democrats are socialists, the president is a victim, the “deep state” wants to overturn the election, blah blah blah.
The grift is finding enough non-political news that matches, or at least doesn’t conflict, with the narrative to balance out the blatant pro-Trump propaganda. And to keep unrepentantly making TV for Boomers, which is maybe why our 73-year-old reality-TV-host-in-chief keeps tuning in.
Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that OAN—with coverage so nakedly thirsty and ham-handed that it makes Sean Hannity seem like a BBC news presenter—is destined to remain Trump’s side piece, a place to go when Fox isn’t getting it done and to use to make Fox jealous.