AT&T Denies Funding OAN, Says It Actually Refused to Carry the Network

The world's largest communications company is denying that it is responsible for funding 90 percent of One America News (OAN), a far-right media network that has spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the coronavirus pandemic—after a new report pointed fingers to AT&T for OAN's profitability.

"AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN's success and does not 'fund' OAN," the company said in a Wednesday statement. "When AT&T acquired DIRECTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DIRECTV as a result. Four years ago, DIRECTV reached a commercial carriage agreement with OAN, as it has with hundreds of other channels and as OAN has done with the other TV providers that it carries on its programming."

"The decision of whether to renew the carriage agreement upon its expiration will be up to DIRECTV, which is now a separate company outside of AT&T," the statement added.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that an OAN accountant testified saying the bulk of OAN's revenue comes from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV.

The contract with the communication giant directed tens of millions of dollars in revenue to OAN, according to the sworn testimony. Under oath, the accountant testified that without the contract, the network's value "would be zero."

In an earlier statement sent to Newsweek, AT&T defended that their platforms offer programming across the political spectrum and that the company does not promote one particular view through its funding of OAN.

"DIRECTV offers its customers a wide variety of programming, including many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum, but does not dictate or control programming on the channels. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong," an AT&T spokesperson wrote.

However, the Reuters investigation claimed that AT&T not only played a crucial role in funding OAN but also in creating it.

During a 2019 deposition viewed by Reuters, the network's founder and chief executive officer, Robert Herring Sr., testified that the idea to launch the conservative network came from AT&T executives, who wanted to create a competitor to Fox News.

AT&T also owns entertainment giant Warner Media, of which CNN and HBO are units.

Herring testified that he was offered $250 million from AT&T in 2019. The deal included his other network, the lifestyle channel AWE.

AT&T OAN Conspiracy Theories Election 2020 COVID-19
A new report published Wednesday found that AT&T was responsible for funding 90 percent of far-right network One America News' revenue. The AT&T logo sign is seen above the store in Culver City, California on January 28, 2021. Chris Delmas/AFP

OAN rose to prominence in 2015 for covering live rallies of Donald Trump, who was a GOP presidential candidate that year. The network became one of Trump's favorites after winning the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton.

During his term in office, Trump encouraged his supporters and Twitter followers to watch OAN, claiming that the network covered news "other media afraid to show."

After the 2020 election, which Trump and OAN repeatedly claimed was "stolen", a record 767,000 people reportedly installed the OAN app in November—nine times as many in October. The Reuters analysis also found that the network's website's visits peaked from November through January with 15 million visits.

In August, the network was sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation after it alleged there was voting tampering in the 2020 election.

"OAN helped create and cultivate an alternate reality where up is down, pigs have wings," Dominion said in the lawsuit.

In an interview with Reuters, former OAN producer Marissa Gonzales, who resigned in 2020, said: "If there was any story involving Trump, we had to only focus on either the positive information or basically create positive information. It was never, never the full truth."

Last year, YouTube also suspended OAN from profiting off its YouTube channel for repeatedly violating its policy on COVID-19 misinformation. The video sharing platform forbids content that claims there is a cure for the virus. OAN had repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure.

Updated 3:42 p.m. ET: The story and its headline have been updated to reflect AT&T's statement on the Reuters report.