NAACP President Derrick Johnson is set to meet with AT&T leadership at the company’s Washington, D.C. headquarters today to discuss AT&T’s relationship with One America News (OAN). Johnson condemned AT&T after a Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that a lucrative contract with AT&T-owned platforms was responsible for 90% of OAN parent company Herring Networks, Inc.’s funding, and that AT&T even had a hand in creating OAN when it launched in 2013.
“We are outraged to learn that AT&T has been funneling tens of millions of dollars into OAN since the network's inception,” Johnson said. “AT&T has as a result caused irreparable damage to our democracy.”
OAN head Robert Herring Sr. revealed in a 2019 deposition obtained by Reuters that AT&T executives were the ones who approached him about founding OAN. “They [AT&T] told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”
Herring hasn’t been shy about the editorial freedom and support AT&T has given his far-right network since then. During an interview on OAN last week, Herring showered AT&T with praise and even called on viewers to thank the company.
A full video of the interview also shows Herring outright lying about the controversy surrounding the Reuters report. When pressed by correspondent Pearson Sharp, Herring said that “all of our funding comes from the Herring Networks.” Technically true, but much of the funding Herring Networks received appears to come from that AT&T contract.
OAN began airing on U-Verse in 2014. It only started appearing on DirecTV in 2017 after parent company Herring Networks settled a case with AT&T over AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV in 2015. Herring Networks claimed that AT&T had gone back on an oral agreement that would allow OAN to be broadcast on DirecTV once the acquisition went through.
AT&T cited the settlement as the only reason DirecTV even broadcasts OAN. “When we acquired DIRECTV, Herring pressured us for months to carry OAN. We rejected their offer and in response, Herring Networks sued us, claiming we deliberately intended to injure Herring,” the company said in a statement. “Only as part of the settlement of that lawsuit did DIRECTV consent to a commercial carriage agreement with OAN four years ago.”
OAN is available on other providers, including Verizon FiOS, GCI, and CenturyLink Prism. Those companies appear to be facing minimal backlash compared with AT&T. One source told media consultant Timothy Burke that 20% of the DirecTV cancellations they’d received were because of AT&T’s support for OAN.
AT&T really has been hit in the pocketbook lately. The company’s stocks have been on a steep downturn since the Reuters report was published Oct. 6, though investors have been wary to hold onto it since the company announced a merger with Discovery Inc. in May. Last week, MarketWatch reported that AT&T was headed for an 11-year low. AT&T’s Q3 earnings call today didn’t exactly give it the boost the company was expecting, either. The stock rose slightly then continued tumbling and is currently .85% lower than it was when markets closed yesterday.
Last month, CEO John Stankey said the company would focus on a “multi-year effort” to rehabilitate its image. Sticking with OAN doesn’t exactly help with that. It remains to be seen what AT&T will do about Herring Networks following the meeting with Johnson. For now, many customers are more than happy to pull the plug on DirecTV and other AT&T-owned ventures instead of waiting for an answer to come.