Telecoms have long been accused of try to distort politics, but a new report suggests AT&T may have gone further than most. According to To The edge, Reuters reports that AT&T is a major funder of One America News Network (OAN), a right-wing media YouTube temporarily banned last November for spreading disinformation. As multiple TV providers broadcast the channel, an OAN accountant said in 2020 that 90% of OAN’s parent company Herring Networks revenue, in the tens of millions of dollars, came from deals with platforms. -forms owned by AT&T which included DirecTV.
OAN founder Robert Herring separately said that AT&T executives inspired him to launch the network in 2013 after examining a media landscape with relatively few conservative outlets. Court documents also indicated that AT&T had offered to buy a 5% stake in OAN and the Herring AWE lifestyle chain, although the two ended up choosing a different deal.
OAN even claimed that an AT&T executive, Aaron Slator, offered to put the channel on DirecTV in return for help lobbying for the satellite broadcaster’s merger in 2014. The Herring family are also said to have met. FCC officials to talk about the merger and speak well of AT&T in the news reports. AT&T has denied making the Slator-related offer, and an OAN lawsuit alleging a violation of that agreement would have led AT&T to add OAN to DirecTV’s selection.
AT&T denied allegations of undue influence in responses to Reuters and The edge. The carrier argued that DirecTV “does not dictate” the programming of the channels and that support for the DirecTV merger was “never a condition or part of” a content distribution agreement. In a Twitter declaration, AT&T maintained that it “had never had a financial interest” in OAN and that the decision to port the network was now in the hands of DirecTV.
The problem, as you can imagine, is that AT&T may have helped spread disinformation without being held accountable like online vendors and other companies. In addition to YouTube’s OAN suspension following a violation of COVID-19 disinformation rules, voting machine maker Dominion continued the network in August of this year on unproven allegations of electoral fraud. If the report is correct, AT&T could easily be under pressure to distance itself from the OAN and focus more on its core services than politics.