As the Trumpian One America News network churned out conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, the far-right TV channel reportedly had massive funding to rely on from a secret source: the world’s biggest communications company. According to a special report from Reuters published Wednesday, AT&T has poured tens of millions of dollars into the fringe channel, with an OAN accountant testifying in 2020 that 90 percent of the network’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned affiliates.
“They told us they wanted a conservative network.… When they said that, I jumped to it and built one,” OAN founder and Chief Executive Robert Herring Sr. said of AT&T executives during a 2019 deposition, according to Reuters. Court filings cited in the report are said to show that one five-year deal with AT&T alone brought One America News about $57 million, thanks to monthly fees included in the agreement. AT&T spokesman Jim Greer disputed that figure in comments to Reuters and declined to specify how much the company has given to OAN.
At one point, AT&T also reportedly offered to acquire a 5 percent equity stake in OAN and AWE, another network owned by Herring, though that acquisition ultimately never materialized. FactCheck.org’s Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Reuters the funding made sense, since “there’s a market for something and there’s a lot of money attached to that market.” “So this is AT&T playing the Roger Ailes role,” she said, referring to the late GOP operative who turned right-wing fantasies into profits at Fox News. Greer, the AT&T spokesman, played down the significance of the funding. “We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” Greer was quoted telling Reuters.