AT & T’s political donations, OAN deal drag it into culture wars

During Donald Trump’s day, AT&T came under repeated gunfire from the President for its acquisition and ownership of CNN – the cable news network that he and his supporters regularly called “fake news.”

Not even a year after a changing of the guard at the White House, the Dallas-based telecommunications giant is once again in the crosshairs of the political culture war. This time, it is moderate Democratic and Republican activists who are targeting his financial support for booming right-wing extremism in the USA

The anger stems from recently released court testimony and files suggesting that the right-wing One America News Network would not exist without the support of AT&T.

A week after the festering controversy began, AT & T’s only public comment is a prepared statement to The morning news from Dallas.

“AT&T has never had a financial stake in OAN’s success and does not ‘finance’ OAN,” the statement said in part. “CNN is the only news network we fund because it’s part of AT&T.”

For a company with a history dating back to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876, it is an uncomfortable projector that has only grown since the OAN was revealed.

  • Progressive PAC American Bridge, co-chaired by former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, called on AT&T to take a stand against Texas’ restrictive new abortion law with a recent advertising blitz calling for the company’s contributions to conservative legislators from his home state.
  • Republican anti-Trump PAC Project Lincoln labels the company in attack ads as a supporter of white nationalism and calling for a boycott. The group’s reach is wide: it has over 2.7 million Twitter followers and 785,000 YouTube channel subscribers.
  • NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson noted the organization was “sickened” by the revelations about AT&T and OAN. The Congressional Black Caucus slammed AT & T’s support for the OAN as being “in direct opposition to its demands to embrace and value diversity, equity and inclusion”.
  • John Oliver, who hosts Last week tonight on HBO, owned by AT&T, criticized the company, saying “you do bad things and you make the world worse.”

In the week following the Reuters report, the #BoycottATT hashtag – operated primarily by democratic political organizations – reached 2.5 million users via hundreds of posts on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms, according to the report. social media research company Brandmentions.

OAN, the cable network owned by Robert Herring Sr., has received frequent praise from Trump for its adoring coverage of his presidency. He was also accused of spreading conspiracy theories, debunking lies about the 2020 election result and the COVID-19 pandemic that claimed the lives of 722,000 Americans. In June, NAO anchor Pearson Sharp falsely claimed Democrats stole the election from Trump and suggested execution the responsibles.

The OAN controversy is rooted in AT & T’s strategic shift in the media world.

It embarked on a series of deals in the mid-2010s aimed at transforming its business from a company that simply controls wired and wireless infrastructure to a “modern media” company that provides consumers with entertainment and entertainment. news content.

This played out during Randall Stephenson’s tenure as CEO. Now his successor John Stankey is tasked with unraveling the multi-billion dollar deals that brought cable satellite provider DirecTV and Time Warner together under his umbrella and returning the company to its telecommunications roots.

The Reuters report, titled “How AT&T Helped Build Far-Right One America News,” cites 2019 testimony from OAN owner Herring in an unrelated court case to AT&T. He said AT&T executives were the inspiration for the creation of the network in 2013.

“They only had one, it was Fox News, and they had seven more from each other [left wing] side, ”Herring said in court deposition, according to the report.

OAN was airing on AT & T’s U-Verse TV service when the company, poised to enter the media world more broadly, announced its intention to acquire DirecTV. Herring sued over concerns that AT&T would migrate its U-Verse customers to DirecTV, which does not offer OAN.

AT&T finally settled with OAN. According to Herring, the deal provided OAN with tens of millions of dollars over a five-year period and a massive platform on DirecTV for the fledgling network to reach American homes.

Fees collected from OAN’s contract with AT&T-owned television platforms provide the network with 90% of its revenue, according to Reuters, citing affidavits by OAN’s accountant.

At one point, shortly after the network launched, AT&T even attempted to buy a 5% stake in the Herring company, Reuters found.

“Basically AT&T at the time came up to them and put together a real, serious business partnership,” Angelo Carusone, CEO of progressive media watchdog Media Matters, said on MSNBC.

“Maybe one of them was to invest and buy part of the business, but the most enticing thing was to say, ‘We’ll guarantee you enough income that even if you don’t receive no ads even if you have almost no viewers you are still a profitable business as long as you exist and accept this deal.

In its statement, AT&T downplayed its role in strengthening the network.

“When we acquired DirecTV, Herring pressured us for months to come up with the OAN. We turned down their offer and in response, Herring Networks sued us, claiming that we deliberately intended to hurt Herring. It is only as part of the settlement of this lawsuit that DirecTV agreed to a commercial distribution agreement with OAN four years ago.

But the fees incurred to OAN in the transport agreement would have been about 18 times market value at the time, Carusone said, calling it “outrageously high.” Reuters calls the relationship with AT&T “lucrative” for OAN.

AT&T wasn’t the only one who wanted a piece of the network.

About 10 months before the 2020 election, the growing importance of the NAO in far-right political circles piqued the interest of conservatives across the country.

Led by a Dallas-based private equity arm of Hicks Holdings – the Dallas family office of Tom Hicks, father of Republican National Committee co-chair Tommy Hicks Jr. – Hicks Equity Partners was interested in bidding for the network. This agreement never materialized.

Marc Ambinder, Principal Investigator at the Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy at the University of Southern California, describe AT & T’s agreement to carry the network as “a reflection of AT & T’s awareness that right-wing eyeballs mean a lot of money.”

Herring spoke for the first time on Friday, calling the Reuters investigation a “skewed success story” and disputing the testimony of OAN’s own accountant about AT & T’s freight charges accounting for 90% of the funding for the company.

“I wish it was [true]”, He declared in an interview with his network. “AT&T pays us a very small amount compared to what they pay other channels. … We have enough to survive.

Herring said AT&T never told the network what to broadcast.

“All the people on the other side… they’re all trying to get rid of us,” Herring said. “We are making changes in America, and we will continue to do so.”

AT&T sold its media assets under the leadership of new CEO John Stankey.  He retained a 70% stake in DirecTV.
AT&T sold its media assets under the leadership of new CEO John Stankey. He retained a 70% stake in DirecTV.(Andrew Burton – Getty Images)

In August, AT&T made a deal to split its television and streaming businesses, including DirecTV, into a separate company that it will co-manage with private equity group TPG Capital. AT&T said the new company is overseen by its “own board of directors, where AT&T has equal and non-controlling representation with TPG.”

“Whether or not to renew the OAN transport agreement when it expires will rest with DirecTV, which is now a separate and independent company outside of AT&T,” the company said in its statement. AT&T has kept a 70% of the capital in DirecTV.

But with a controversial Texas legislature continuing to push for new laws, such as those that limit the rights of LGBTQ Texans, the pressure on AT&T may persist.

On Texas’ restrictive new abortion legislation, AT&T responded to its criticism by saying that it “has never taken a position on the issue of abortion.”

“AT&T has neither approved nor supported the passage of Senate Bill 8 by the Texas Legislature. AT&T employee political action committees have never based their contribution decisions on a lawmaker’s positions on the abortion issue, and employee contributions to the PAC to lawmakers in Texas have gone to the both to opponents and supporters of Senate Bill 8, ”the company said in the statement.

But activists believe one of Texas’ biggest corporate citizens should take a stand on abortion and other issues. Non-partisan watchdog group Responsible.US called on AT&T “to stand up for its stated public values” and condemn the partisan redistribution of Texas Republicans.

“Silence is complicity at this stage. Especially in a state where they are headquartered, ”said American Bridge vice president of strategic communications Julie McClain-Downey.

AT&T Headquarters in downtown Dallas.