One America News founder claimed he started network at AT&T’s request

Eagle-trimmed logo for One American News Network.

A Reuters report revealed as we speak with the title “How AT&T helped build far-right One America News” alleges that the telecom big performed a big function “in creating and funding OAN, a network that continues to spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While there is not any proof or allegation that AT&T performed a direct function in creating OAN, Reuters factors to a court docket case wherein OAN’s founder stated he created the network after AT&T “told us they wanted a conservative network.” OAN additionally apparently will get the overwhelming majority of its income from a carriage cope with the AT&T-owned DirecTV, which is by far the most important cable or satellite tv for pc TV supplier that carries the channel. OAN is carried by suppliers together with DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS, and CenturyLink, however not by massive cable operators similar to Comcast, Charter, and Cox.

OAN proprietor Herring Networks claimed in a 2016 lawsuit that AT&T promised to hold OAN on DirecTV in alternate for OAN’s public assist of AT&T’s try to buy the satellite tv for pc supplier, which required authorities approval. OAN’s lawsuit claimed that AT&T reneged on the deal as soon as its buy of DirecTV was finalized in 2015. OAN lastly obtained on DirecTV in 2017, weeks after agreeing to drop its lawsuit towards AT&T. Herring additionally claimed in court docket that AT&T in 2013 proposed buying a 5 % possession stake in Herring, however that buy was by no means made.

When contacted by Ars as we speak, AT&T offered a press release saying it by no means invested immediately in OAN:

AT&T has by no means had a monetary curiosity in OAN’s success and doesn’t “fund” OAN. When AT&T acquired DirecTV, we refused to hold OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DirecTV in consequence. Four years in the past, DirecTV reached a business carriage settlement with OAN, because it has with a whole bunch of different channels and as OAN has achieved with the opposite TV suppliers that carry its programming. DirecTV gives all kinds of programming, together with many information channels that supply quite a lot of viewpoints, but it surely doesn’t dictate or management programming on the channels. Any suggestion in any other case is improper.

AT&T “wanted a conservative network”

The Reuters story is predicated virtually fully on court docket paperwork however would not present any of these paperwork and even say which courts they had been filed in. Reuters described one of many court docket circumstances as “a labor lawsuit brought against OAN by a former employee and unrelated to AT&T,” apparently referring to a racial-discrimination case wherein a San Diego County Superior Court jury final 12 months awarded ex-employee Jonathan Harris practically $290,000 in damages.

A deposition within the labor lawsuit revealed AT&T’s request for “a conservative network,” Reuters wrote:

OAN founder and chief government Robert Herring Sr. has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 got here from AT&T executives.

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring stated throughout a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”

Since then, AT&T has been a vital supply of funds flowing into OAN, offering tens of tens of millions of {dollars} in income, court docket data present. Ninety % of OAN’s income got here from a contract with AT&T-owned tv platforms, together with satellite tv for pc broadcaster DirecTV, based on 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.

OAN definitely offered what it claims AT&T requested for. “OAN’s influence rose in late 2015, when it began covering Trump rallies live, at a time when some of the media still saw the New York celebrity businessman as a longshot presidential contender,” Reuters wrote. “The network continues to shower Trump with attention and often provides a friendly platform for his Republican allies. As president, Trump frequently urged supporters to watch OAN.”

Herring alleged quid professional quo

The different lawsuit that Reuters alluded to is Herring Networks v. AT&T. It was filed in March 2016 in US District Court for the Central District of California and dismissed at the request of the events in March 2017. The grievance alleged that AT&T misled Herring about its intentions for the U-verse wireline TV platform. “When the parties negotiated and entered into their agreement, AT&T led Herring to believe that U-verse TV—AT&T’s new television distribution service—would continue to expand and grow. But unbeknownst to Herring, AT&T had decided to acquire DirecTV and wind down U-verse, i.e., move AT&T’s pay-TV customers to the DirecTV system,” the grievance alleged.

The grievance additional claimed that “AT&T promis[ed] to put Herring’s channels on DirecTV in return for Herring’s support and lobbying with governmental regulators in favor of AT&T’s $65 billion acquisition of DirecTV” however that “[a]fter AT&T got Herring’s support, and the acquisition was completed, AT&T reneged on its promise and agreement to put Herring’s channels on DirecTV.”

In a May 2016 declaration in that lawsuit, Herring Networks President Charles Herring, the son of Robert Herring Sr., described an October 2013 assembly with AT&T executives Aaron Slator and Ryan Smith. They supplied a deal that had been licensed by AT&T’s then-CEO Randall Stephenson, Charles Herring instructed the court docket:

During that assembly, Mr. Slator proposed that AT&T purchase a 5 % possession stake in Herring in order that Herring’s channels would turn into AT&T-affiliated channels. Once that occurred, Mr. Slator stated, AT&T would “put” Herring’s networks to DirecTV, i.e., require DirecTV to hold our networks below the phrases of a “Put Agreement” between AT&T and DirecTV. Mr. Slator instructed me that Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, each instructed him and gave him the authority to suggest this “Put Agreement” to Herring on behalf of AT&T, the dad or mum firm in Dallas, Texas. I accepted Mr. Slator’s proposal on behalf of Herring (the “Put Right Deal”).

Herring lobbied for AT&T

AT&T introduced a pending settlement to buy DirecTV in May 2014. Shortly after that announcement, Charles Herring visited AT&T’s Los Angeles workplace. He instructed the court docket:

At that assembly, Mr. Slator instructed me that Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s Chairman and CEO, not wished to maneuver ahead with the Put Right Deal… as a result of Mr. Stephenson didn’t wish to have an effect on the acquisition and his negotiations along with his then-counterpart at DirecTV, Chairman and CEO Mike White. Mr. Slator stated that, as an alternative, Mr. Stephenson licensed Mr. Slator to supply Herring a special deal. Mr. Slator proposed that if Herring publicly supported AT&T throughout the acquisition course of, AT&T would trigger DirecTV to hold Herring’s networks after the acquisition.

“Charles accepted Slator’s terms,” and the events agreed to a deal wherein DirecTV would pay over $100 million in licensing charges over 5 years, the lawsuit stated.

“At AT&T’s direction and in reliance on the parties’ agreement, Herring did everything AT&T asked to obtain governmental approval of the acquisition,” the lawsuit claimed. Herring “filed briefs with the FCC in support of the [AT&T/DirecTV] acquisition and against the Comcast/TWC merger, including one that was ghostwritten by AT&T,” and he “invited AT&T to utilize OAN’s news programs to cast a positive light on the acquisition and advocated for other issues affecting AT&T’s business,” the lawsuit stated.

Charles Herring’s 2016 declaration described yet another assembly he had in October 2014 within the District of Columbia with James Cicconi, who was then AT&T’s senior government VP of exterior and legislative affairs:

Mr. Cicconi instructed me that he was liable for guaranteeing that AT&T efficiently accomplished the acquisition of DirecTV. Mr. Cicconi thanked me for Herring’s work in assist of the acquisition. Mr. Cicconi reiterated the DirecTV promise that Mr. Slator had made to me a number of months earlier. Mr. Cicconi confirmed that, since Herring had carried out its finish of the discount, AT&T would get Herring’s networks carriage on DirecTV after the acquisition. Mr. Cicconi instructed me that he had authority from his superiors at AT&T Inc. in Dallas, Texas, to make this promise on behalf of AT&T Inc.

AT&T accomplished its acquisition of DirecTV in July 2015 and didn’t embrace OAN in its roster of channels for practically two years. OAN lastly launched on DirecTV on April 5, 2017, a bit greater than two weeks after a federal decide granted a joint stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Herring towards AT&T. No settlement was talked about in that submitting, however the litigation was not essential as soon as the AT&T-owned DirecTV agreed to pay for OAN.

AT&T denied that it promised to hold OAN in alternate for the corporate’s assist of the DirecTV merger. “Support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement,” an AT&T spokesperson instructed Ars as we speak. DirecTV additionally carries the Herring-owned network referred to as A Wealth of Entertainment, previously generally known as Wealth TV.

OAN’s worth with out DirecTV “would be zero”

AT&T’s buy of DirecTV was a monetary failure. In August, AT&T accomplished a derivative of DirecTV after six years of mismanagement wherein practically 10 million clients ditched the corporate’s pay-TV providers. AT&T nonetheless owns 70 % of DirecTV, however the satellite tv for pc supplier now operates extra independently of its dad or mum firm.

“The decision of whether to renew the carriage agreement [with OAN] upon its expiration will be up to DirecTV, which is now a separate company outside of AT&T,” AT&T instructed Ars as we speak.

The actual quantity that DirecTV pays OAN is confidential however essential to OAN’s survival, Reuters wrote, citing court docket testimony from OAN’s accountant. “In addition to testifying that AT&T provided 90 percent of Herring Networks’ income, the accountant said the company’s book value—the net value of its assets—was a modest $16.6 million,” based on Reuters. The information article additionally quotes the accountant as testifying that, with out the DirecTV deal, OAN’s worth “would be zero.”

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