Former president Donald Trump is fond of calling for boycotts, and though these efforts tend to be unsuccessful (as evidenced by the continued existence of Apple, HBO, and Oreos) he’s still adding to the list — sort of. Speaking at a rally Saturday night in Florence, Arizona, Trump suggested that since the far-right One America News Network is being dropped by DirecTV, his supporters should consider cutting their ties with AT&T, which has a 70 percent stake in DirecTV.
“The woke executives” at AT&T may “no longer carry this network that’s doing very well,” Trump said. “You know why? Because people told them not to do it. So maybe what we should do is not use AT&T.”
“I watch it all the time and you really get the truth and they want to cancel them now because of politics, purely political reasons,” Trump continued. He said he wasn’t officially calling for a boycott because he was asked not to, but repeated the word “boycott” twice more for effect.
But Trump’s analysis of the situation is, unsurprisingly, lacking some nuance. As usual, the former president is not the most reliable news source — and that actually may be part of the problem for the network modeled in his image.
It’s true that on Friday, DirecTV, a satellite and streaming network with about 15 million subscribers, announced it intends to drop One America News Network. And this is indeed a major blow for OAN — which Adweek once dubbed the “ultimate ‘pro-Trump network.” An investigative report by Reuters, which was published in October, found that OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr. has testified that the network was created in 2013 because AT&T executives wanted another conservative channel, and AT&T’s funding was key to OAN’s success as its viewership grew during Trump’s presidency:
Since then, AT&T has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue, court records show. Ninety percent of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.
Herring has testified he was offered $250 million for OAN in 2019. Without the DirecTV deal, the accountant said under oath, the network’s value “would be zero.”
The expiration of the OAN-DirecTV contract in early April could “financially cripple” the network, as Reuters put it. OAN is currently only available in about a quarter of the roughly 121 million TV households in the U.S.; though OAN will still be carried by Verizon FiOS and some smaller TV providers, the loss of DirecTV’s 15 million subscribers will be devastating.
But are AT&T’s “woke executives” to blame? It’s unclear. DirecTV’s only statement on the matter suggested it was a routine business decision. “We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” a DirecTV spokesman said.
Though Trump claimed OAN is “doing very well,” it appears that may not be the case. Nielsen does not report OAN’s ratings, as the network does not subscribe to its service. But when Nielsen briefly tracked OAN in spring 2019, it averaged a minuscule 14,000 total daily viewers. And in May 2021, the Daily Beast reported that several high-profile OAN staffers were jumping ship for Newsmax, in search of bigger audiences, higher pay, and less extremism.
Perhaps Trump has some inside information, as it seems members of the Herring family were in attendance at his rally on Saturday. And several prominent conservatives certainly seem to think this is the latest example of “cancel culture” run amok:
In recent months, several organizations, including the NAACP and Media Matters for America, had been pressuring AT&T and DirecTV to dump OAN for promoting false information about COVID-19, the legitimacy of the Joe Biden presidency, and the Capitol riot. As the New York Times noted, OAN is already facing two lawsuits over its amplification of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, and it’s continued to spread a variety of misinformation:
Its anchors have regularly questioned the outcome of the 2020 election. The network is facing defamation lawsuits from two election technology companies, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, that have accused the channel of spreading falsehoods that they manipulated vote tallies to swing the election to Joseph R. Biden Jr.
One America News has also promoted the false theory that left-wing agitators, and not Trump supporters, were the primary instigators of the Capitol riot.
This month, on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, One America News ran a segment about “the patriotic demonstrations at the Capitol on Jan. 6” that suggested the attack was a so-called “false flag” operation by liberals intended to strip patriotic Americans of their liberties. “Leftist, Media Narrative Surrounding January 6th, 2021 Simply an Excuse for Democrats to Seize Power,” read an onscreen headline.
The channel has also aired false and misleading reports about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines. In June, one anchor, Pearson Sharp, told viewers: “The fallout from the coronavirus vaccine continues to grow, and the toll on human life is now worse than anyone could have imagined.”
Did the AT&T executives who called for a Fox News competitor and backed OAN for nine years suddenly turn “woke”? Are they just cowards bending to pressure from a handful of lefty organizations determined to stamp out conservative media outlets? Sure, all that’s possible. Or maybe they’re just worried about OAN’s future from a business standpoint, as the company is already facing two lawsuits and seems to be inviting more legal trouble.
We may never know why exactly DirectTV is cutting ties with OAN, but the move does highlight some of the difficulties that come with being a Trump-aligned network. While the former president often faces no consequences for disseminating misinformation, it seems the same does not always go for TV channels.