In 2019, the competition to become the cable news president’s favorite outlet found an unlikely new frontrunner: One America News Network.
The decidedly far-right “news” channel, founded in 2013 by Robert Herring Sr., has long resided on the fringes of cable TV. Prior to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, it was probably best known as the launching pad of current Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren’s career. Prior to her leaving OAN in 2015, Lahren gained notoriety—and brought the upstart network attention—with the viral, bite-sized video screeds that have since become her trademark.
With Trump’s election, OAN saw an opportunity to fully embrace all things Trump, seeking to outdo Fox News, Fox Business Network, and other conservative outlets in its sycophantic coverage of the Trump presidency in order to curry favor with the president as his most reliable booster.
In the early days of the Trump era, however, the president—and most everyone—largely ignored the network. While occasionally expressing appreciation for its devotion to the Trump spin, the president also mocked the channel for its low-budget graphics and presentation, coming away unimpressed with its on-air product.
In the past year, though, Trump has seemingly come around on OAN, appearing to view it as a much friendlier and more malleable alternative to Fox. Throughout 2019, the president used OAN as a cudgel whenever he felt jilted by insufficient loyalty from Fox’s newsdesk, often publicly embracing OAN in an apparent effort to send a message to Fox News.
“Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews,” the president tweeted in August. “Actually, whenever possible, I turn to @OANN!”
With a much brighter spotlight shining down on this previously obscure station, and the possibility that Trump will turn to them more and more as he approaches a contentious 2020 election, here is a primer on OAN’s biggest personalities—via the more insane highlights of the past year.
Towards the end of 2018, Herring signaled to Trump that his network would always have his back, especially when Fox News’ coverage even remotely disagreed with the president. After the White House revoked CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials, and Fox announced it would back CNN’s lawsuit to regain Acosta’s press pass, Herring went full contrarian and said One America News would join Trump’s side of the legal battle. At the same time, Herring revealed an overt jealousy of Fox’s close relationship with the president.
“Acosta’s actions are stopping our people from getting their questions answered, so that we can give our audience the real news direct from our President,” the OAN chief’s statement read. “Can’t believe Fox is on the other side, but they have direct communication to the President. We are lucky if we get a five minute interview once a quarter.”
As Trump began signal-boosting OAN more and more throughout the early part of 2019, however, the far-right channel came up with some alternative, “edgy” programming to appeal to the Trump supporter who just can’t stand all the Trump-skewering on Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight.
Headlines Tonight with Drew Berquist, a Saturday night “comedy” show,debuted in the spring to instant online mockery. A knockoff of Fox’s 2007 failed attempt at humor, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, this unapologetically lame program imagined Mike Huckabee-like hokey humor in a lower-budget Daily Show setting. But, as with its Fox counterpart, the show quickly came and went.
On a more serious note, however, One America News spent much of 2019 peddling dangerous conspiracies and, at times, foreign propaganda. The network’s pandering to the craziest corners of the internet, meanwhile, made OAN hell to work at, according to former employees.
In May, OAN ran a segment claiming that dozens of members of the humanitarian group Syrian Civil Defense—also known as the White Helmets—had confessed to faking chemical weapons attacks in order to frame Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
“At least 40 members of the terrorist-linked White Helmets have admitted they staged fake chemical attacks to provoke retaliation against the Syrian Government,” OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp reported. “Members of the group, who won an Oscar for their Netflix documentary, came out in recent interviews for a study presented to the United Nations and confessed they had in fact faked the attacks.”
As reported by The Daily Beast, this smear of the White Helmets was tied to a Kremlin disinformation campaign seeking to discredit the group and clear of wrongdoing Assad, who is propped up by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White Helmets have been the scourge of both Russia and Syria as the group’s volunteers have provided horrifying footage of Assad’s use of chemical weapons on Syria’s civilian population.
Not just content with simply airing Russian disinformation, One America News actually employs a Kremlin-paid propagandist. Kristian Brunovich Rouz has been reporting for OAN since August 2017 while simultaneously working for Sputnik, the Russian state-owned news site that the U.S. intelligence community found played a pivotal role in Russia’s 2016 election interference.
Rouz’s reporting on OAN has straddled the line between standard right-wing conspiracy mongering—George Soros being a Nazi collaborator, Hillary Clinton funding antifa—to full-on Kremlin propaganda, including trutherism on Syrian chemical weapons attacks.
This past fall, for instance, OAN dispatched Rouz to claim a British report investigating Russian interference in the U.K. elections was nothing more than another “Russia hoax” perpetrated by liberals.
OAN, meanwhile, has taken issue with accusations that they are disseminators of Russian propaganda. After MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow referenced The Daily Beast’s report revealing Rouz had been paid by Sputnik to claim that “the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really, literally is paid Russian propaganda,” One America News filed a $10-million lawsuit against Maddow. In its suit, OAN noted that Rouz was just a freelancer with Sputnik while Rouz insisted he had “never written propaganda, disinformation, or unverified information.”
Rouz is far from the only controversial figure working at the ultra-conservative network. One of the channel’s weekday personalities is none other than notorious pro-Trump internet troll Jack Posobiec. Prior to catching on with OAN, Posobiec gained notoriety for relentlessly pushing (comically) false information and conspiracies while associating himself with the alt-right.
One of the earliest and biggest propagators of the insane Pizzagate conspiracy claiming high-ranking Democratic officials run a child-sex ring out a D.C.-area pizzeria, Posobiec also was a central figure in terms of pushing the discredited Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Among his more infamous antics: Days after Trump’s election, in Nov. 2016, Posobiec attempted to discredit anti-Trump protesters by planting a “Rape Melania” sign in a demonstration, something he denies involvement in.
Besides repeatedly pushing the debunked notion that Rich, a former DNC staffer, was murdered for providing Clinton-related emails to WikiLeaks, Posobiec hired a couple of neo-Nazi brothers to work on a Rich documentary. In 2018, Jeffrey Clark, one of the brothers, was arrested on weapons charges amid accusations he was planning a race war alongside his brother Edward, who committed suicide hours after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
The Clark brothers aren’t the only ties Posobiec has had with white nationalism. He’s been pictured with notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer, whom he once described as “indispensable.” Throughout the 2016 election, he repeatedly shared social media posts containing the white supremacist code 1488, which references the Fourteen Words. Posobiec also utilized the anti-Semitic triple-parentheses meme in an Oct. 2016 tweet.
Since joining OAN, Posobiec has continued to embrace his inner troll while playing footsie with the fever swamp. In October, for instance, Posobiec signaled to the cultish believers in the crazed QAnon conspiracy, tweeting: “How can the left say they believe the whistleblower but not believe QAnon?” Weeks later, during the impeachment hearings, Posobiec took issue with National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s heritage, wondering: “Why are there so many non-US-born people working in our Intel and State Department?”
OAN’s chief White House correspondent, meanwhile, is former infomercial bra saleswoman Emerald Robinson, who has become a lightning rod for controversy over her batty tweeting habits.
Robinson, who appeared in several B-movie and crime docudrama extra roles before becoming a far-right pundit, once wrote that black NFL players protesting against police brutality were "Rococo Marxists and millionaire Black Panther athletes." She also penned a column trashing the "low-testosterone, dilettantish strain” of “intellectual” conservatives, claiming the “Never Trump intellectual crowd” are "Jewish and agnostic” while “the Republican Party is overwhelmingly Caucasian and Christian.”
The OAN correspondent spent much of 2019 firing off unhinged Islamophobic online rants at other members of the media, earning her an endorsement from white-nationalist publication VDARE. In one such tweet, which she eventually deleted, Robinson ranted at CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) “is an al-Qaeda supporting Somali gangster who has committed immigration fraud, marriage fraud, and campaign finance violations!"
"Seriously: are you an apologist for Islamist terrorist supporters?" Robinson concluded.
She’s also teamed up online with Posobiec, most notably when it comes to making baseless accusations about Fox News in obvious attempts to curry the president’s favor. One standout example occurred in October after a Fox News poll showed the majority of Americans supported impeachment.
“Here’s what is happening,” Robinson tweeted. “Paul Ryan at Fox News hires a polling firm run by liberal activists. They call many Dems & very few Republicans. Liberal media puff up the phony poll numbers non-stop. GOP senators say ‘Trump’s numbers are bad.’ It’s cover for GOP to impeach Trump.”
“Why would Fox News treat their viewers like that?” Posobiec helpfully replied.
The impeachment inquiry, which originated with an anonymous whistleblower filing a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, resulted in conservative media and Trump supporters pushing for the outing of the man alleged to be the whistleblower. OAN went further than other right-wing outlets when it came to giving personal information about the person.
In a series of on-air reports, OAN national political reporter Neil McCabe went to the home of the alleged whistleblower’s parents, asking a man in the driveway if the whistleblower was home. The man eventually took McCabe’s business card.
In a later segment, the OAN reporter went to the purported whistleblower’s apartment building in an effort to capture the person on video, showing details of the building lobby and entrance on-screen. (Both videos have since been taken down.)
It has been the network’s association with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, however, that has planted OAN directly in the middle of domestic and international political intrigue—and likely signals a deepened relationship with Trumpworld that might only intensify in an election year.
Giuliani, whose Ukrainian dirt-digging operation is at the heart of the president’s impeachment, teamed up with the network to produce a series of specials in which he traveled to Europe to interview former and current Ukrainian officials who’ve been critical of Biden and Democrats.
The specials were hosted by Chanel Rion, a One America News personality who has long been a purveyor of nutty conspiracy theories. Rion, who recently had to walk back a report that former FBI lawyer Lisa Page had an affair with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, is also a political cartoonist, anti-feminist children’s book writer and—almost as if it’s a prerequisite to working at OAN—a Seth Rich and Pizzagate truther.
Giuliani and Rion’s “investigation” featured a motley crew of witnesses, with little to no credibility, who have long been pushing bizarre, unfounded conspiracies and questionable accusations in an effort to smear their political opponents.
Furthermore, OAN went as far as attempting to secure a visa for former Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleksandr Onyshchenko to travel to the United States in the network’s bid to dig up more Biden dirt on Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company the ex-veep’s son Hunter worked at. Before they could get him a visa, however, German authorities arrested Onyshchenko on a warrant from Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutors.
“I can confirm that One America News Network did attempt to secure a number of visas for former Ukrainian officials to travel to the United States, including Olekesandr Onyshchenko,” OAN president Charles Herring said at the time.
“One America News Network made the request prior to Mr. Onyschchenko being detained. One America News investigative efforts have cost in excess of $100,000 to date.”
Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to reflect that Emerald Robinson did not connect Jeffrey Epstein’s pedophile ring to the right-wing conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate. We regret the error.