White wears age as badge of honour in pursuit of fifth Games – Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/white-wears-age-badge-honour-pursuit-fifth-games-2021-10-19/

Medals Ceremony – Snowboarding – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Men’s Halfpipe – Medals Plaza – Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 14, 2018 – Gold medallist Shaun White of the U.S. on the podium. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

Oct 19 (Reuters) – In a sport where youth can trump experience, three-time Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White wears his age as a “badge of honour” as he vies to compete at a fifth Olympics.

The American was 19 when he picked up his first gold at the 2006 Turin Games and cemented his legacy as the most successful snowboarder of all time when he triumphed in dramatic fashion at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

Now 35 years old and hoping to compete in the 2022 Beijing Games, White said he was adapting to his status as the elder statesman of his sport.

“I’ve been the youngest competitor as long as I can remember but I wear it now as somewhat of a badge of honour in a sense,” White told reporters at the USOPC media summit.

“To be on top of a sport that’s ever-changing and for this amount of time, it’s been a challenge.”

Staying on top has been as much a mental challenge as a physical one, he said, after settling for fourth place at the 2014 Sochi Games and having to once again harness his passion for competing.

White clinched gold in 2018 on his final run in the halfpipe final, earning a 97.75 for a spectacular display.

“In Sochi, I’d lost something; I’d lost this edge that I had,” said White. “It was (a) really emotional and sort of heavy journey to find that again.”

The 13-time Winter X Games champion had once hoped to compete in the debut Olympic skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Games but dropped his bid in early 2020, deciding he was not ready to walk away from snowboarding and immediately “switching gears” back to winter sports.

The path has not always been easy.

He withdrew from the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, earlier this year with a knee injury and said it took him longer to recover from the usual bumps and bruises that come with the high-flying sport.

“I will admit, you know, it is getting harder – just the day in and day out (and) the grind of doing these tricks,” said White.

“I took a really bad crash a couple of days ago and I remember I would just kind of like bounce back up and feel great but I’m like, ‘Ooo might need a couple more days rest before I get back out there’.”

However, the Californian said he would not rule out another Olympic bid, after updating virtually every element of his routine from how he practices and spends his time on the hill to how he approaches his diet and sleep.

“I always say it might be (the last) just because it is how it feels,” said White. “Time kind of keeps moving on and I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, I feel pretty good, I’m motivated, I’m excited’ and then boom, I’m at the next Olympics.

“So I wouldn’t count the next one out.”

Places on the U.S. snowboard halfpipe Olympic team will be allocated based on rankings and performances in qualifying events, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Possibilities and Limits of Individual Climate Action

https://gizmodo.com/the-possibilities-and-limits-of-individual-climate-acti-1847887339

Commuter cyclists make their way through Kennington against a blurred background on Aug. 3, 2016 in London, England.

Commuter cyclists make their way through Kennington on Aug. 3, 2016 in London, England.
Photo: Dan Kitwood (Getty Images)

Here at Earther, I spend a lot of my time writing about the entities that are the most responsible for the climate crisis, like energy giants and other polluting companies. I know that these companies and their friends in government have spent decades promoting the false idea that we are all responsible for global warming.

And yet, I never leave the lights on when I leave the house. When I drive my car, I feel the occasional twinge of guilt. I was vegan for years, largely because of the horrendous greenhouse gas pollution from the meat industry.

I know that individual climate-focused choices aren’t harmful, but I sometimes wonder if they have any real utility. Sami Grover, an environmental writer at Treehugger, has spent a lot of time thinking that question through. In his new book, We Are All Climate Hypocrites Now, he attempts to answer it.

To do so, Grover interviewed climate activists, journalists, scientists, and scholars. He examined his own attempts to green his life and how access and oppression limit the individual actions people can take to reduce their carbon footprints. Individual action can indeed be useful as long as it’s seen as a means to create change, not an end in itself.

Earther chatted with Grover about his new book. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


Dharna Noor, Earther: You write that the book started as a plan to debunk the importance of individual action. Did that pan out?

Sami Grover: I started the book to some degree because of my frustration with what I’ve been doing for 10-plus years, which is writing about what you can call “green living” at a time when that whole sort of eco-modernist, we’re-gonna-shop-our-way-out-of-this approach was very common. While a lot of what I was writing about was politics or activism, I did also find myself writing articles on all these little micro-interventions. It got very frustrating that that was the center of the conversation.

And yet, as I dug in, what I realized is that even among folks who were very adamant that this is about systems and politics and whatever, most people I spoke to were doing something in their personal lives too, and vice versa. I didn’t speak to anyone who was going down the hardcore green vegan dumpster diving route who didn’t also believe that we absolutely need system-level interventions. So I think it ended up in a lot more nuanced place than I was expecting.

Earther: Right. And you write throughout the book about how you yourself have implemented individual climate-focused actions. You drive an electric car. You brewed biodiesel at home. Can you talk about why it is that you’ve made these changes in your own life?

Grover: A lot of it is because it’s interesting and fun! Except the biodiesel thing. That was a briefly lived experiment, and that that was less fun. But I think there’s a lot of joy to be had and sort of exploring a lot of those avenues.

There’s also something you learn about where the systems are going to stop you. Climate scientist Peter Kalmus talks about this a lot in the book. When you go hardcore down this route, you will find the places where it’s really not possible to make better choices. So there’s sort of an illustration angle to it.

But the other part that I’m increasingly thinking about is that there are problems with how we measure those actions. We measure in terms of the effect on our carbon footprints, individually. So the question becomes what’s the biggest thing I can do for my carbon footprint? And then, what’s the second biggest thing, what’s the third, the fourth? You end up in this rabbit hole, crawling around on your hands and knees and trying to caulk the baseboards to insulate your house and taking two-minute showers and all of this stuff. At some point, there’s a diminishing return on investment. What I’ve been getting to increasingly is that we should think about these actions less as efforts to reduce our own carbon footprints and more as acts of mass mobilization.

So for instance, we can think more in terms of boycotts rather than behavior change. That allows you a lens to focus your efforts as to where it’s actually going to make a difference. It also gives you an opportunity to cut yourself and others some slack, because those boycotts are only going to work if you can build up a mass movement. So it’s less about, “well, I flew twice last year, and it ruined my carbon footprint,” and more about, “where are the opportunities to hit the aviation industry and the fossil fuels that power it where it hurts?”

Earther: It reminds me of something from your conversation with energy analyst Ketan Joshi in the book. You write that, “behavior change only matters when it can become a catalyst for societal level of change.” What’s the difference between a bunch of individual people making changes and an actual movement?

Grover: I think the answer is partially just in targeting those actions. For instance, you can look at efforts not to fly. I know a bunch of people who try not to fly, as much as they can. Take Flight Free in the UK. They’re focused on academia, and what they’re trying to do is take individual commitments, and then turn that into institutional commitments, and then turn that into organizational commitments.

It’s about looking outwards more. It’s less about what action you take, and more about thinking about what units of measurement to use, because that changes how you go about what you’re doing.

Earther: You focus quite a bit in the book about the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to encourage all of us to look inward when thinking about how to take on the climate crisis. You write that it’s really important for us to be careful that our individual actions and our lens of individualism do not “inadvertently provide corporate polluters with an assist” in that mission. How do we avoid playing into their hands?

Grover: There’s this tension where people who are going down the green living route feel like they’re being dismissed by the folks who are saying it’s the systems that are the problem, and the folks who are saying it’s the system just feel judged by the people who are going down the green living route.

We need to get to the space where we say, “yes, there is a version of the argument that we ought to take personal responsibility, that absolutely helps the fossil fuel industry,” because it puts all the responsibility on us. But two things can be true at once. Just because the fossil fuel industry wants me to focus only on my diet and my car choice and whether I bike to work doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t make conscious choices in that area. It just means I shouldn’t stop there. And also, it shouldn’t allow me to distract from the bigger question of holding polluters to account.

Simply starting from a place where it’s less about, “it’s all our fault,” and more about, “where are my opportunities to make things better,” is helpful. Because then, we can act but we still know who the real villains are. And it also empowers us to say, “hey, I don’t have to completely give up fossil fuels in my personal life in order to make a difference.”

I think the example in the book about the slavery abolitionist movement and sugar boycotts is a really useful one because I’m pretty sure folks that took part in those sugar boycotts were not able to give up all goods grown by enslaved people; weren’t able to free themselves from the system of slavery entirely. Instead, they were able to find one place where they could make some economic impacts, but more importantly, to galvanize a movement.

We can acknowledge that we have places of power in almost every part of our lives where we can shift the system into a better place, that’s more receptive to systemic change. And maybe we can help do that through our shopping habits, or by changing how we move about. But we can’t let that be the central part of the conversation around climate change. They can’t be the end goal.

Building community and bridges through Black food culture

https://blog.google/web-creators/building-community-and-bridges-through-black-food-culture/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FMKuf+%28The+Keyword+%7C+Official+Google+Blog%29

Eden Hagos grew up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in a family of East African food entrepreneurs. Her parents ran a restaurant, among other food businesses, and her grandmother sold injera (a sour fermented flatbread). When she moved to Toronto to attend university, Eden “wanted to fit in,” leaving her East African diet and traditions — such as using injera, instead of utensils, to scoop fragrantly spiced dishes — behind.

However, when Eden experienced racism from restaurant staff while dining out for her 26th birthday, her worldview changed forever. “Being denied respect because of my skin color made me ask myself why I had never considered celebrating special occasions at an African or Caribbean restaurant,” Eden recalls. “Why didn’t I cook my cultural foods? I knew then that I wanted to change the way I looked at food.”

Eden traveled the world, attending food festivals and interviewing chefs about Black food and culture. She discovered a gap in the food industry and set out to build a digital community around Black cuisine. In 2015, she launched the BLACK FOODIE website and social media accounts, bringing together chefs, restaurateurs, and other experts and influencers to celebrate what it means to be Black in the kitchen.

The BLACK FOODIE community on Instagram and Facebook began to grow. As the content got cooking, Eden realized her audience was expanding as well. Two years after she started the community, the BLACK FOODIE team blossomed into a group of three with the addition of Elle Asiedu, Chief Brand Architect, and Kema Joseph, who supports the brand’s PR strategy. The team developed BLACK FOODIE into a cross-channel brand with its website at the center — sharing recipes, stories, restaurant recommendations and food travel guides.

Should You Get a Microbiome Test?

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/well/live/microbiome-test.html

Despite how much scientists have learned in recent years, there remains a lot that we still don’t know about the thousands of different microbial species that can inhabit the gut.

“The known unknowns of the microbiome are staggering: Approximately 20 percent of bacterial gene sequences have not been identified,” and the function of 40 percent of the estimated 10 million total of bacterial genes remains unknown, Dr. Loughman and a colleague wrote in a recent review paper published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Studies have shown that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that has consistent effects on such factors as metabolic health or weight loss for everyone, and the microbiome is part of the reason for this. As a result, some companies are combining microbiome analyses with other data to give people customized diet recommendations.

One large international study of personalized nutrition, called Predict, has followed 1,100 people in the United States and Britain, including hundreds of identical and nonidentical twins. It found that people can have dramatically different metabolic responses to the same foods and that unique factors, such as a person’s genetics, sleep, stress and exercise levels, and the diversity and types of microbes in their guts, all influence how they metabolize food.

This research formed the basis of a company called Zoe, which provides personalized food recommendations. To do that, the company analyzes its customers’ gut microbiomes and collects a wealth of other health data from them. Zoe has its customers wear continuous glucose monitors, and it takes blood samples from them to see how different meals affect the levels of fat and glucose in their circulations. Prices for the company’s programs start at $354, paid in six monthly installments of $59.

In 2015, a group of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel published a study involving 800 participants that also showed that people had wildly different glucose responses, an indicator of diabetes risk, to the same foods. The researchers developed an algorithm using data from the participants’ glucose responses, gut microbiomes, family histories and lifestyles, which allowed them to predict how a person’s glucose levels would respond to different foods. The research gave rise to a company called DayTwo, which provides personalized nutrition advice to people with diabetes to help them manage their condition.

Using the company’s app, customers can see if a meal they’re thinking of having is likely to spike their glucose levels, and they are guided toward food choices that might be better for them, said Eran Segal, a computer scientist at the Weizmann Institute and a co-founder of DayTwo. “We’ll almost never tell you that you can’t eat something,” said Dr. Segal. “But we’re going to tell you that we may change the quantity a bit or change the food combinations.”

Viewpoint: Why Ethiopias Tigray region is starving, but no famine declared

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-58921744

The Ethiopian representative to the UN, Taye Atske Selassie, then made a series of allegations that UN staff were TPLF sympathisers and, in a step almost without precedent, Mr Guterres took to the floor a second time to challenge him to provide evidence, saying that he had personally spoken twice with Mr Abiy on the topic, without the prime minister providing details to back up the allegations.

Luxury brand Coach will stop destroying unwanted goods following TikTok outrage

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/coach-bags-destroyed-tiktok/index.html

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

Luxury brand Coach announced that it will no longer destroy damaged or “unsaleable” goods returned to its stores, after a viral TikTok video claimed the label intentionally “slashed” unwanted items for tax purposes.

Without directly referencing the allegations, the American brand wrote on Instagram Tuesday that it had “ceased” destroying in-store returns and would look to “responsibly repurpose, recycle and reuse excess or damaged products.”
The move follows claims made by TikTok user Anna Sacks, who filmed herself unboxing Coach products that appeared to be rendered unusable. In the minute-long video, Sacks, who goes by the username @thetrashwalker, said it was Coach’s policy to “order an employee to deliberately slash (unwanted merchandise) so no one can use it.”

Holding up slashed bags, shoes with cut straps and a jacket with large rips, Sacks alleged in the video that the practice was part of a “tax loophole” that sees the brand write off products “as if they were accidentally destroyed.” Neither Coach nor its parent company, Tapestry, responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

The video, which was first posted to TikTok on Saturday, has been liked over 560,000 times at the time of writing. Social media backlash intensified on Tuesday when Diet Prada, an influential fashion watchdog, posted the allegations to Instagram alongside videos appearing to show the Coach items being recovered from a dumpster.
The luxury brand has said it will no longer destroy unsalable or damaged products returned to its stores.

The luxury brand has said it will no longer destroy unsalable or damaged products returned to its stores. Credit: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Industry practices

The label is by no means the only luxury company thought to intentionally destroy unwanted inventory. The practice is usually aimed at preventing excess stock being sold at cheaper prices and damaging brands’ exclusivity.

In 2018, Burberry announced that it would stop burning unsold goods after it was found to have destroyed clothes and perfume worth over $36 million the previous year. A variety of fashion houses, watchmakers and apparel firms have faced similar accusations in recent years.

But critics of Coach’s alleged policy drew attention to the brand’s (Re)Loved program, a repair service and resale platform marketed as “a less wasteful way of doing things.” In the video, Sacks said she intended to send the damaged items to the repair service to see if the label would fix them for her.

Coach’s Instagram statement said the brand was “committed to sustainability” and “dedicated to maximizing such products reuse in our Coach (Re)Loved and other circularity programs.”

Tapestry, which also owns brands including Kate Spade and Monique Lhuillier, said in its 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report that it had repaired 28,258 Coach items — amounting to 85% of those sent to the brand that year — and was “continuing to develop scalable solutions” for the remaining 15%.

Speaking to CNN via WhatsApp, Sacks welcomed Coach’s response as “a start.”

“I want to emphasize again that Coach is the brand who was publicly caught this time, but this remains a widespread practice in the fashion industry,” she said. “My fear is that other brands, instead of getting serious about right sizing production, will continue overproducing and destroying only now being extra careful to hide evidence.

“This might include using compactors, locking dumpsters, and forcing employees to sign punitive (non-disclosure agreements). It will be a shame, and to the detriment of our planet, if this is the lesson that the fashion industry takes away from this Coach incident. That’s my biggest fear with exposing the destruction.”

Were drowning in a sea of salt. The FDA says we have to help save ourselves

https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/13/health/cut-salt-fda-wellness/index.html

Yet I am still getting over the recommended daily limit of 2300 milligrams of sodium by eating out or by adding processed or prepared ingredients to the meals I make.

Take salad dressing, for example.

“I’ve found salad dressings where a single serving (2 tablespoons) had over 23% of one’s daily value in sodium,” said Dr. Stephen Juraschek, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who researches sodium and hypertension.

“Most of my patients do not add salt at the dinner table, but don’t realize that bread rolls, canned vegetables and chicken breasts are among the worst culprits in the US,” he said.

Chicken breasts? Yes, because salt is added in the manufacturing process to plump up the breasts so they look bigger and more appetizing. In fact, hidden sources of sodium are everywhere in our diets, said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, in a media briefing.

“Who would think bread? And yet bread is one of the highest sources of sodium that people are getting,” Woodcock said. “The problem it’s so cumulative: the tomato sauce, the peas, the bread, the salad dressing. Pretty soon your whole meal has hidden salt in it, and it’s really hard right now for people to manage that on their own.”

In fact, more than 70% of the sodium Americans eat comes from what has been added by the food industry to products later purchased in stores or restaurants, according to the FDA.

Voluntary guidelines set

Woodcock and her team at the FDA announced Wednesday they want to help people manage their salt intake by asking the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels in 163 categories of the most consumed processed, packaged and prepared foods.

FDA  lowers voluntary sodium guidelines, but not to recommended levelsFDA  lowers voluntary sodium guidelines, but not to recommended levels
“The targets seek to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, about a 12% reduction, over the next 2.5 years,” the FDA said in a statement announcing the final guidance.

However, five years ago the agency issued draft guidance that set a much lower level: 2300 milligrams, or about 1 teaspoon of table salt. That’s the recommended daily limit set by federal nutritional guidelines and the American Heart Association (people at high risk of hypertension should aim for 1,500 milligrams).

Despite applauding the action by the FDA as a “step forward,” the AHA said the 3,000 mg/day target set for manufacturers was not low enough.

“Lowering sodium further to 2,300 mg could prevent an estimated 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, gain 2 million quality-adjusted life years and save approximately $40 billion in health-care costs over a 20-year period,” the AHA said in a statement.

Woodcock said the FDA set the higher levels of 3,000 milligrams to help the public — and therefore manufacturers — wean themselves over time from a preference for higher-salt foods.

Experts are dubious

Will it work? Experts who spoke to CNN were skeptical.

“The first issue is that this is voluntary. Food companies don’t have to pay any attention to it at all,” said nutrition researcher Marion Nestle, who has authored numerous books on food politics and marketing, including 2019’s “Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.”

“It’s not clear voluntary recommendations have been helpful,” Juraschek said, pointing to a study he conducted showing American consumption of salty foods has increased despite the 2016 FDA call to action for food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels.
Former CDC director: Low sodium salt could save millions of livesFormer CDC director: Low sodium salt could save millions of lives

“I don’t think the manufacturers I’ve spoken with inherently like the idea of harming people, but when faced with the expense of discontinuing a product or changing industrial processes, I think a ‘voluntary’ mandate may not provide enough activation energy to make a difference,” he said.

“I’d argue that change should not be delayed,” he added. “The FDA and government agencies need to be more aggressive in providing mandatory limits on salt in foods as well as requiring more transparent warning labels.”

Consumers need to help

Woodcock said industry action would be monitored over the next few years, and if needed, additional action might be taken by the agency. That’s an important follow-up action, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told CNN in an email.

“Today’s new guidance from the FDA is an important first step,” said Frieden, who is president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies.

“But a first step is just that — a first step. It will be essential that the FDA track industry adherence to these voluntary guidelines, and, if industry fails to take even these modest steps to reduce sodium, then mandatory warning labels and other actions will be necessary,” Frieden wrote.

While acknowledging the difficulty in reading nutrition labels and understanding sodium levels in the food they buy, Woodcock and her team repeatedly called upon the consumer to contribute to the effort to reduce salt in the American diet.

“We’re really relying on the public to ask for these (low-sodium foods) and be positive about them because that will help drive us toward a healthier food supply,” said Susan Mayne, who directs the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Until government and manufacturer actions coincide to create products with less salt — and make it easier to find salt in the foods we are served — there are actions people can take to reduce their dependence on salt.

The good news is that it doesn’t really take that long — just a few weeks — for a person’s taste buds to adapt to eating less salt, Juraschek said.

One way to do so is to adopt the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s been shown in studies to reduce high blood pressure, even in people with resistant hypertension (high blood pressure that cannot be controlled despite the use of three different medications).
DASH diet and exercise helps uncontrolled high blood pressure, study findsDASH diet and exercise helps uncontrolled high blood pressure, study finds

The DASH meal plan includes four to six servings of vegetables and another four to six servings of fruit; three servings of whole-grain products; two to four servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products; and several servings each of lean meats and nuts, seeds and legumes each day.

Here are more tips to reduce salt in your diet:

  • Review the nutrition labels — besides salt, the label could use terms such as monosodium glutamate (MSG, common in Chinese food), sodium citrate, sodium alginate and sodium phosphate.
  • Become familiar with common sources. The foods with the highest levels of salt include breads and rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soups. burritos and tacos, savory snacks such as chips, popcorn and crackers, chicken, cheese, and omelets.
  • Stop using the salt shaker. That helps, even if most of your sodium intake is from processed foods.
  • Try spicing without salt: “This strategy has been demonstrated to reduce sodium intake,” Juraschek said.
  • Ask for nutrition facts at restaurants and try to avoid entrees with excess sodium.
  • Avoid eating out and consume more minimally processed foods at home by eating more fresh and flash-frozen fruits and vegetables.
  • Remember, a daily goal for adults is only 1 teaspoon of salt or 2300 milligrams. For children younger than 14, it’s even less — 1,500 to 1,900 milligrams a day, or about one-third of a teaspoon.

Special Report: How AT&T helped build far-right One America News – Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/how-att-helped-build-far-right-one-america-news-2021-10-06/

SAN DIEGO, Oct 6 (Reuters) – One America News, the far-right network whose fortunes and viewership rose amid the triumph and tumult of the Trump administration, has flourished with support from a surprising source: AT&T Inc, the world’s largest communications company.

A Reuters review of court records shows the role AT&T played in creating and funding OAN, a network that continues to spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during 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 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.”

Dallas-based AT&T, a mobile-phone and Internet provider, also owns entertainment giant Warner Media, which includes CNN and HBO. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and in August spun off the satellite service, retaining a 70% share in the new, independently managed company. AT&T’s total U.S. television subscriber base, including satellite and streaming services, fell from 26 million in 2015 to 15.4 million as of August.

AT&T spokesman Jim Greer declined to comment on the testimony about OAN’s revenue streams, citing confidentiality agreements. He said that DirecTV broadcasts “many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum.”

“We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” Greer said. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

After this story was published, AT&T issued a statement saying it has “never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN.”

Although the contracts are confidential, in court filings Herring cited monthly fees included in one five-year deal with AT&T. According to an AT&T filing citing Herring’s numbers, those fees would total about $57 million. Greer said that figure is inaccurate, but declined to say how much AT&T has paid to air OAN, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Herring and his adult sons own and operate OAN, a subsidiary of their closely held San Diego-based Herring Networks. Their AT&T deal includes Herring’s other network, a little-watched lifestyle channel, AWE. The Herrings declined interview requests.

Herring, who just turned 80, is a self-made businessman who amassed a fortune in the circuit board industry, then turned to television and boxing promotion. 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. 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. In his final two years in office, Trump touted the network, known as @OANN online, to his 88 million Twitter followers at least 120 times.

“Hope everybody is watching @OANN right now,” Trump tweeted on December 1, citing a dubious report about a truck carrying more than 100,000 fake ballots. “Other media afraid to show.”

The state and federal court documents reviewed by Reuters detail a lucrative relationship for OAN with AT&T, even as the two occasionally tangled in court.

The records include a reported offer by AT&T to acquire a 5% equity stake in OAN and AWE, though the two sides ultimately signed a different deal. The court filings also cite a promise by OAN to “cast a positive light” on AT&T during newscasts.

The confidential OAN financial records are drawn in part from testimony, including by Herring and the accountant, generated during a labor lawsuit brought against OAN by a former employee and unrelated to AT&T. When that case went to trial last year, the network’s lawyer told the jury that AT&T was keeping OAN afloat.

“If Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow,” OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies told the court, a transcript shows.

Researchers who tracked the rise of conservative media pillars Rush Limbaugh and Fox News see similarities between those pioneers to One America News and other new rightwing networks, particularly during their formative years.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the births of Fox News and OAN share common threads: money and opportunity. She noted that the late Republican operative Roger Ailes had the foresight in the 1990s to recommend that Fox create a conservative news network.

“If somebody recognizes there’s a market for something and there’s a lot of money attached to that market, you get a news outlet,” Jamieson said. “So this is AT&T playing the Roger Ailes role.”

Greer, the AT&T spokesman, called that comparison “a ridiculous claim,” noting that other distributors also carry OAN.

A BOOST FROM THE INSURRECTION

America’s post-election turmoil, punctuated by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, continues to roil the country. Dozens of election administrators in battleground states Trump lost have received a barrage of death threats, Reuters has reported. A Reuters poll in May showed that a quarter of Americans – and 53% of Republicans – wrongly believe Trump won the 2020 election.

OAN caters to this audience. Trump’s loss was OAN’s gain, social media data show.

The network’s online audience soared in November, after conservative mainstay and OAN competitor Fox News affirmed Joe Biden’s victory. Trump and his camp blasted Fox. A record 767,000 people installed the OAN app that month, nine times as many as in October, according to data firm Sensor Tower. In January, Trump supporters, including at least one carrying an OAN flag, stormed the U.S. Capitol. That month, app installs spiked again to 517,000.

The OAN website averages 8 million visits a month from desktop and mobile users, having peaked at 15 million from November through January, data firm Similarweb found in an analysis for Reuters. Two in three people on desktop computers return to the website after an initial visit, about the same loyalty rate as Fox News and Newsmax, another rival conservative news channel.

One America’s television ratings are harder to measure, partly because it is available in only about a quarter of the estimated 121 million TV households in the United States. Ratings services Nielsen and Comscore, which both show that Fox News continues to be the leading cable network, do not release OAN figures. In an internal email, an OAN news director told staff that the week of the Capitol assault produced the network’s “best ever” ratings, but gave no statistics.

OAN says it is the fourth-rated news network, behind Fox, CNN and MSNBC, and ahead of CNBC, the BBC and Newsmax, but has not provided figures to back this up. (Each of these networks, including One America News, pays Reuters fees to publish the news service’s stories, videos and/or pictures.)

Even so, the number of viewers OAN reaches may be less important than the kind of observers it attracts and galvanizes, said John Watson, an American University journalism professor specializing in ethics and media law.

“If you have 12 Americans being fed a diet of untruth, that’s 12 too many – and here, it’s literally millions,” Watson said of the OAN audience. “When you have that sort of poisonous influence on mass media, it’s a problem; because elections in the United States tend to be so close, a few percentage points here or there can really make a difference.”

At least one self-described regular OAN viewer recently sent a threatening note to an election official. In August, Sheila Garcia of Riverside County, California, sent Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold a scathing message. Biden beat Trump in Colorado, and Garcia accused Griswold, the state’s top election official, of treason – warning her that punishments for that crime are hanging and legal injection. “Within several months you will have to decide between the two,” Garcia wrote.

In an interview, Griswold said she considered threats like Garcia’s message a credible threat on her life. That threat and dozens of others caused her to seek extra security measures, she said.

Garcia, 55, told Reuters she’s convinced Biden stole the election and said she gets most of her news from OAN. She compared U.S. mainstream media to state propaganda outlets in China and Cuba. Her message to Griswold, she said, was legal. “If you’re afraid of a little old lady in a trailer park in California, I feel sorry for you,” she said in an interview.

Neil W. McCabe, OAN’s former Washington bureau chief and now national political correspondent for The Tennessee Star, rejects the idea that the network is a toxic influence. He said OAN serves an important public role and has earned loyalty from viewers who share a similar world view.

“When you give a voice to the voiceless, you’re going to bond with them,” McCabe told Reuters. “Who else is doing these stories?”

In several instances, records show, the network broadcast statements and theories that were proven false.

YouTube suspended OAN from making money off its YouTube channel last year for, among other things, repeatedly violating its COVID-19 policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure. OAN touts hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug promoted by Trump, without scientific evidence, as a cure for COVID.

During last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, OAN aired an unconfirmed report that an elderly demonstrator in Buffalo, New York, who was knocked down and seriously injured by police was trying to jam the cops’ radios. Trump, citing the OAN story, tweeted that the man “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.”

The false accusation went viral. In the two days after the OAN broadcast, one-third of all online references cited the network, an analysis compiled by Zignal Labs for Reuters found.

On January 6, after Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol, an OAN news director cautioned staff via email, “Please DO NOT say ‘Trump Supporters Storm Capitol …’ Simply call them demonstrators or protestors … DO NOT CALL IT A RIOT!!!”

A day later, Herring suggested the riot might be a false-flag operation by the leftwing Antifa movement. “We want to report all the things Antifa did yesterday. I don’t think it was Trump people but lets investigate,” he emailed OAN producers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says there is no evidence of Antifa involvement in the riot. All but a handful of the some 600 suspects charged so far have been rightwing Trump backers.

The next day, Herring tweeted: “If anyone thinks we will throw the best President America has had, in my 79 years, under the bus, you are wrong. We will continue to give him honest coverage.”

His network went on to support Trump in an unusual way: OAN allowed two reporters to raise $605,000 to help fund a “private” audit of the presidential vote in Arizona, despite Republican officials’ assurances that Biden won the state. According to an OAN executive, they did so with the network’s blessing but in a private capacity.

One of the OAN reporters, Christina Bobb, also worked part-time for the Trump recount legal team, according to a recent deposition by Trump’s then-lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. An OAN executive confirmed the arrangement. Bobb, a lawyer and former Trump administration official, did not reply to a request for comment.

Five former OAN producers said in interviews that they found the practice of reporters raising funds for events they cover unethical, but said OAN’s move did not surprise them.

“If there was any story involving Trump, we had to only focus on either the positive information or basically create positive information,” said Marissa Gonzales, an OAN producer from 2019 until she resigned in 2020. “It was never, never the full truth.”

Since March, OAN has sold hours of infomercial time to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading purveyor of false claims the election was stolen. Lindell has used that time on OAN to repeatedly broadcast his election conspiracy “docu-movies.” A primary Lindell target is Dominion Voting Systems Inc, whose machines count votes in 28 states and use paper ballots and records for auditing.

In August, Dominion sued OAN for defamation. “OAN saw a business opportunity” and fueled bogus conspiracies about alleged vote tampering, Dominion contended. “OAN helped create and cultivate an alternate reality where up is down, pigs have wings,” the lawsuit said.

The network’s lawyers have said in letters to Dominion that the election coverage is protected free speech and that the Lindell programs include a disclaimer that they are “opinions only and are not intended to be taken or interpreted by the viewer as established facts.”

Other Trump supporters, including Lindell and lawyers Giuliani and Sidney Powell, offered a similar free speech defense in related lawsuits brought by Dominion. In August, a federal judge said the Lindell, Giuliani and Powell cases should proceed toward trial, noting that the Constitution does not necessarily offer “blanket immunity for statements that are political in nature.”

Generally, the network runs few commercials compared to its competitors, and former bureau chief McCabe said the paucity of advertising is a kind of superpower. The network’s reliance on fees from cable, satellite and streaming providers, instead of commercials, inoculates it from advertiser boycotts faced by counterparts such as Fox News and rightwing online news site Breitbart, in McCabe’s view.

“Because they basically live off the cable and satellite fees, nobody can organize a protest against One America News,” McCabe said.

AT&T & OAN: ORIGIN STORY

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, Robert Herring Sr, with sons Charles and Robert Jr, created highly successful and profitable circuit board companies. They sold one such business in 1988 for about $52 million and another two in 2000 for $122 million.

In 2004, they created a television network called WealthTV, a channel dedicated to affluent lifestyles – yachts, mega-mansions and private jets.

It proved to be a tough sell. Most cable and satellite providers declined to carry it, even when the Herrings offered WealthTV at a discount, or even for free, just to get it on air. “We went to every place you could think of, begging to get on,” Herring said last year on his network.

In 2007 and 2008, Herring petitioned the Federal Communications Commission and courts for help, alleging that the large cable providers favored networks they owned or co-owned, discriminating against independent broadcasters like him. The providers countered that they had the right to broadcast channels they believed provided the best content.

The FCC concluded that the providers had exercised appropriate business discretion and a federal court affirmed that decision. The Herring litigation irritated some providers, lawyers for two carriers told Reuters, making it even harder to get WealthTV on cable or satellite.

Still, the Herrings say they developed a good relationship with AT&T, which began carrying WealthTV in 2006 through U-verse, an Internet set-top box service that can access live TV and video on demand. By 2012, WealthTV had evolved, carrying news updates and live boxing. The Herrings were keen to leverage their existing production facilities in San Diego to launch a second network, either a boxing channel or news outlet.

In a pivotal moment for the company, the Herrings say in court filings, depositions and sworn statements, unidentified AT&T executives told them there was an audience for another conservative news network. Herring seized the opportunity.

In his 2019 deposition in the labor suit unrelated to AT&T, the elder Herring said he created OAN for two reasons.

“To make money, number one,” Robert Herring said. “But number two, is that AT&T told us … they wanted a conservative network.”

The lawyer questioning Herring, Rodney Diggs, followed up.

“So,” the lawyer said, “AT&T kind of dictated the kind of network that they wanted. Because there was an opportunity, you jumped at it?”

“Yes, sir,” Herring replied.

EQUITY, CELEBRATION, SURPRISE

A few months after launching OAN in July 2013, AT&T proposed acquiring a 5% stake in Herring Networks.

In a sworn statement, OAN president Charles Herring said he accepted the oral offer in October 2013. Emails show that the two sides executed a non-disclosure agreement that December and that AT&T due-diligence executives visited the Herrings in San Diego in January 2014.

But the equity proposal did not materialize into a signed contract. Instead, in April 2014 the two sides signed a more conventional deal: AT&T agreed to pay the Herrings 18 cents per subscriber on U-verse each month for five years. AT&T had 5.7 million U-verse subscribers.

Suddenly, after years of rejection, the Herrings were players.

The joy lasted less than a month. In May 2014, AT&T announced that it planned to acquire the satellite service DirecTV, which had 20 million TV subscribers at the time.

This alarmed the Herrings because their deal with AT&T was limited to U-verse. If AT&T moved all its U-verse customers to DirecTV, the Herrings feared they might receive nothing, court filings show. OAN would lose millions of potential viewers.

To prevent that, Charles Herring hustled to Los Angeles to see a key AT&T executive.

LOBBYING FOR AT&T

That executive, according to Charles Herring’s sworn account in a lawsuit the Herrings would later file against AT&T, was Aaron Slator, then AT&T’s president of content and advertising.

Slator told him AT&T needed help to allay FCC and other officials’ concern that the DirecTV deal – a consolidation of providers – might make it harder for independent networks to get on the air, Charles Herring said.

So, he said in the affidavit, Slator proposed a new deal: If the Herrings lobbied on AT&T’s behalf, AT&T would air OAN and WealthTV on both U-verse and DirecTV. The Herrings would be paid one-third less per subscriber, but because DirecTV had so many more subscribers, the deal could be worth $100 million over five years.

The Herrings got to work.

Charles Herring hired a Washington lobbyist and met with FCC officials, FCC records show. He says he signed a filing of support “ghostwritten by AT&T” and sent it to the FCC. He says he attended a $50,000-per-person Republican fundraiser as part of the campaign.

The Herrings even offered to air positive news about AT&T on OAN, the network said in its lawsuit against AT&T, which said it could not comment on the litigation.

“Herring’s support of AT&T ran deep,” the Herrings’ lawyers wrote. “Herring 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.”

In court records, AT&T denied it made such a deal to carry OAN on DirecTV if the Herrings lobbied for the merger. “Support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement,” an AT&T spokesperson recently told Reuters. Slator, no longer with AT&T, could not be reached for comment.

Another former senior AT&T executive told Reuters the company never made quid-pro-quo offers linking network deals to political support. “You just don’t mix the two,” he said.

In any event, the former executive said, such lobbying by a conservative news channel would be implausible or ineffective because it would have come during the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat. “The Herrings were not going to have influence with Obama’s people,” said the former AT&T official.

The FCC approved the AT&T-DirecTV deal in July 2015.

The Herrings say AT&T still refused to put OAN and WealthTV on DirecTV, leaving them only on the shrinking U-verse platform. In March 2016, the Herrings sued AT&T, alleging it had broken an oral promise.

AT&T denied any wrongdoing, issuing a statement at the time that said, “This lawsuit is simply a ploy by Herring to negotiate a slanted deal.”

The Herrings won a key pretrial ruling from a federal judge, however, and in March 2017, the case was settled on undisclosed terms. A month later, OAN and WealthTV (since renamed AWE) began appearing on DirecTV.

KEEPING HIS NETWORK

On February 5, 2020, the U.S. Senate, sitting as a jury during Trump’s first impeachment trial in Washington, acquitted him of abusing his power for asking Ukraine’s president to launch an investigation into then-candidate Biden.

On the same afternoon, in a San Diego courtroom, Robert Herring sat before a different jury, the one that heard evidence from the OAN accountant in the employment case.

The jury had already found that OAN had wrongly fired the former producer for filing a racial complaint. Now, the jury was considering punitive damages. To help determine an appropriate penalty, the law allowed the jury to hear testimony about OAN’s financial condition.

In addition to testifying that AT&T provided 90% of Herring Networks’ income, the accountant said the company’s book value – the net value of its assets – was a modest $16.6 million.

When Herring took the witness stand, he said OAN’s market value was far higher. He confirmed a 2020 Wall Street Journal report that pro-Trump private equity investors sought to buy OAN for $250 million. Herring told the court he had given the group a few exclusive months to come up with the money but that it had only raised $35 million.

“No way I would sell for $35 million,” Herring testified.

For nearly four decades, Herring had worked closely with his sons to build several successful businesses, including OAN. The network, he said, carried sentimental value.

“I am not sure I want to sell for anything,” he said.

Reporting by John Shiffman in San Diego. Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford, Linda So, Jason Szep and Brad Heath. Editing by Ronnie Greene

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Special Report: How AT&T helped build far-right One America News – Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/how-att-helped-build-far-right-one-america-news-2021-10-06/

SAN DIEGO, Oct 6 (Reuters) – One America News, the far-right network whose fortunes and viewership rose amid the triumph and tumult of the Trump administration, has flourished with support from a surprising source: AT&T Inc, the world’s largest communications company.

A Reuters review of court records shows the role AT&T played in creating and funding OAN, a network that continues to spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during 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 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.”

Dallas-based AT&T, a mobile-phone and Internet provider, also owns entertainment giant Warner Media, which includes CNN and HBO. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and in August spun off the satellite service, retaining a 70% share in the new, independently managed company. AT&T’s total U.S. television subscriber base, including satellite and streaming services, fell from 26 million in 2015 to 15.4 million as of August.

AT&T spokesman Jim Greer declined to comment on the testimony about OAN’s revenue streams, citing confidentiality agreements. He said that DirecTV broadcasts “many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum.”

“We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” Greer said. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

After this story was published, AT&T issued a statement saying it has “never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN.”

Although the contracts are confidential, in court filings Herring cited monthly fees included in one five-year deal with AT&T. According to an AT&T filing citing Herring’s numbers, those fees would total about $57 million. Greer said that figure is inaccurate, but declined to say how much AT&T has paid to air OAN, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Herring and his adult sons own and operate OAN, a subsidiary of their closely held San Diego-based Herring Networks. Their AT&T deal includes Herring’s other network, a little-watched lifestyle channel, AWE. The Herrings declined interview requests.

Herring, who just turned 80, is a self-made businessman who amassed a fortune in the circuit board industry, then turned to television and boxing promotion. 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. 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. In his final two years in office, Trump touted the network, known as @OANN online, to his 88 million Twitter followers at least 120 times.

“Hope everybody is watching @OANN right now,” Trump tweeted on December 1, citing a dubious report about a truck carrying more than 100,000 fake ballots. “Other media afraid to show.”

The state and federal court documents reviewed by Reuters detail a lucrative relationship for OAN with AT&T, even as the two occasionally tangled in court.

The records include a reported offer by AT&T to acquire a 5% equity stake in OAN and AWE, though the two sides ultimately signed a different deal. The court filings also cite a promise by OAN to “cast a positive light” on AT&T during newscasts.

The confidential OAN financial records are drawn in part from testimony, including by Herring and the accountant, generated during a labor lawsuit brought against OAN by a former employee and unrelated to AT&T. When that case went to trial last year, the network’s lawyer told the jury that AT&T was keeping OAN afloat.

“If Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow,” OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies told the court, a transcript shows.

Researchers who tracked the rise of conservative media pillars Rush Limbaugh and Fox News see similarities between those pioneers to One America News and other new rightwing networks, particularly during their formative years.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the births of Fox News and OAN share common threads: money and opportunity. She noted that the late Republican operative Roger Ailes had the foresight in the 1990s to recommend that Fox create a conservative news network.

“If somebody recognizes there’s a market for something and there’s a lot of money attached to that market, you get a news outlet,” Jamieson said. “So this is AT&T playing the Roger Ailes role.”

Greer, the AT&T spokesman, called that comparison “a ridiculous claim,” noting that other distributors also carry OAN.

A BOOST FROM THE INSURRECTION

America’s post-election turmoil, punctuated by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, continues to roil the country. Dozens of election administrators in battleground states Trump lost have received a barrage of death threats, Reuters has reported. A Reuters poll in May showed that a quarter of Americans – and 53% of Republicans – wrongly believe Trump won the 2020 election.

OAN caters to this audience. Trump’s loss was OAN’s gain, social media data show.

The network’s online audience soared in November, after conservative mainstay and OAN competitor Fox News affirmed Joe Biden’s victory. Trump and his camp blasted Fox. A record 767,000 people installed the OAN app that month, nine times as many as in October, according to data firm Sensor Tower. In January, Trump supporters, including at least one carrying an OAN flag, stormed the U.S. Capitol. That month, app installs spiked again to 517,000.

The OAN website averages 8 million visits a month from desktop and mobile users, having peaked at 15 million from November through January, data firm Similarweb found in an analysis for Reuters. Two in three people on desktop computers return to the website after an initial visit, about the same loyalty rate as Fox News and Newsmax, another rival conservative news channel.

One America’s television ratings are harder to measure, partly because it is available in only about a quarter of the estimated 121 million TV households in the United States. Ratings services Nielsen and Comscore, which both show that Fox News continues to be the leading cable network, do not release OAN figures. In an internal email, an OAN news director told staff that the week of the Capitol assault produced the network’s “best ever” ratings, but gave no statistics.

OAN says it is the fourth-rated news network, behind Fox, CNN and MSNBC, and ahead of CNBC, the BBC and Newsmax, but has not provided figures to back this up. (Each of these networks, including One America News, pays Reuters fees to publish the news service’s stories, videos and/or pictures.)

Even so, the number of viewers OAN reaches may be less important than the kind of observers it attracts and galvanizes, said John Watson, an American University journalism professor specializing in ethics and media law.

“If you have 12 Americans being fed a diet of untruth, that’s 12 too many – and here, it’s literally millions,” Watson said of the OAN audience. “When you have that sort of poisonous influence on mass media, it’s a problem; because elections in the United States tend to be so close, a few percentage points here or there can really make a difference.”

At least one self-described regular OAN viewer recently sent a threatening note to an election official. In August, Sheila Garcia of Riverside County, California, sent Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold a scathing message. Biden beat Trump in Colorado, and Garcia accused Griswold, the state’s top election official, of treason – warning her that punishments for that crime are hanging and legal injection. “Within several months you will have to decide between the two,” Garcia wrote.

In an interview, Griswold said she considered threats like Garcia’s message a credible threat on her life. That threat and dozens of others caused her to seek extra security measures, she said.

Garcia, 55, told Reuters she’s convinced Biden stole the election and said she gets most of her news from OAN. She compared U.S. mainstream media to state propaganda outlets in China and Cuba. Her message to Griswold, she said, was legal. “If you’re afraid of a little old lady in a trailer park in California, I feel sorry for you,” she said in an interview.

Neil W. McCabe, OAN’s former Washington bureau chief and now national political correspondent for The Tennessee Star, rejects the idea that the network is a toxic influence. He said OAN serves an important public role and has earned loyalty from viewers who share a similar world view.

“When you give a voice to the voiceless, you’re going to bond with them,” McCabe told Reuters. “Who else is doing these stories?”

In several instances, records show, the network broadcast statements and theories that were proven false.

YouTube suspended OAN from making money off its YouTube channel last year for, among other things, repeatedly violating its COVID-19 policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure. OAN touts hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug promoted by Trump, without scientific evidence, as a cure for COVID.

During last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, OAN aired an unconfirmed report that an elderly demonstrator in Buffalo, New York, who was knocked down and seriously injured by police was trying to jam the cops’ radios. Trump, citing the OAN story, tweeted that the man “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.”

The false accusation went viral. In the two days after the OAN broadcast, one-third of all online references cited the network, an analysis compiled by Zignal Labs for Reuters found.

On January 6, after Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol, an OAN news director cautioned staff via email, “Please DO NOT say ‘Trump Supporters Storm Capitol …’ Simply call them demonstrators or protestors … DO NOT CALL IT A RIOT!!!”

A day later, Herring suggested the riot might be a false-flag operation by the leftwing Antifa movement. “We want to report all the things Antifa did yesterday. I don’t think it was Trump people but lets investigate,” he emailed OAN producers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says there is no evidence of Antifa involvement in the riot. All but a handful of the some 600 suspects charged so far have been rightwing Trump backers.

The next day, Herring tweeted: “If anyone thinks we will throw the best President America has had, in my 79 years, under the bus, you are wrong. We will continue to give him honest coverage.”

His network went on to support Trump in an unusual way: OAN allowed two reporters to raise $605,000 to help fund a “private” audit of the presidential vote in Arizona, despite Republican officials’ assurances that Biden won the state. According to an OAN executive, they did so with the network’s blessing but in a private capacity.

One of the OAN reporters, Christina Bobb, also worked part-time for the Trump recount legal team, according to a recent deposition by Trump’s then-lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. An OAN executive confirmed the arrangement. Bobb, a lawyer and former Trump administration official, did not reply to a request for comment.

Five former OAN producers said in interviews that they found the practice of reporters raising funds for events they cover unethical, but said OAN’s move did not surprise them.

“If there was any story involving Trump, we had to only focus on either the positive information or basically create positive information,” said Marissa Gonzales, an OAN producer from 2019 until she resigned in 2020. “It was never, never the full truth.”

Since March, OAN has sold hours of infomercial time to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading purveyor of false claims the election was stolen. Lindell has used that time on OAN to repeatedly broadcast his election conspiracy “docu-movies.” A primary Lindell target is Dominion Voting Systems Inc, whose machines count votes in 28 states and use paper ballots and records for auditing.

In August, Dominion sued OAN for defamation. “OAN saw a business opportunity” and fueled bogus conspiracies about alleged vote tampering, Dominion contended. “OAN helped create and cultivate an alternate reality where up is down, pigs have wings,” the lawsuit said.

The network’s lawyers have said in letters to Dominion that the election coverage is protected free speech and that the Lindell programs include a disclaimer that they are “opinions only and are not intended to be taken or interpreted by the viewer as established facts.”

Other Trump supporters, including Lindell and lawyers Giuliani and Sidney Powell, offered a similar free speech defense in related lawsuits brought by Dominion. In August, a federal judge said the Lindell, Giuliani and Powell cases should proceed toward trial, noting that the Constitution does not necessarily offer “blanket immunity for statements that are political in nature.”

Generally, the network runs few commercials compared to its competitors, and former bureau chief McCabe said the paucity of advertising is a kind of superpower. The network’s reliance on fees from cable, satellite and streaming providers, instead of commercials, inoculates it from advertiser boycotts faced by counterparts such as Fox News and rightwing online news site Breitbart, in McCabe’s view.

“Because they basically live off the cable and satellite fees, nobody can organize a protest against One America News,” McCabe said.

AT&T & OAN: ORIGIN STORY

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, Robert Herring Sr, with sons Charles and Robert Jr, created highly successful and profitable circuit board companies. They sold one such business in 1988 for about $52 million and another two in 2000 for $122 million.

In 2004, they created a television network called WealthTV, a channel dedicated to affluent lifestyles – yachts, mega-mansions and private jets.

It proved to be a tough sell. Most cable and satellite providers declined to carry it, even when the Herrings offered WealthTV at a discount, or even for free, just to get it on air. “We went to every place you could think of, begging to get on,” Herring said last year on his network.

In 2007 and 2008, Herring petitioned the Federal Communications Commission and courts for help, alleging that the large cable providers favored networks they owned or co-owned, discriminating against independent broadcasters like him. The providers countered that they had the right to broadcast channels they believed provided the best content.

The FCC concluded that the providers had exercised appropriate business discretion and a federal court affirmed that decision. The Herring litigation irritated some providers, lawyers for two carriers told Reuters, making it even harder to get WealthTV on cable or satellite.

Still, the Herrings say they developed a good relationship with AT&T, which began carrying WealthTV in 2006 through U-verse, an Internet set-top box service that can access live TV and video on demand. By 2012, WealthTV had evolved, carrying news updates and live boxing. The Herrings were keen to leverage their existing production facilities in San Diego to launch a second network, either a boxing channel or news outlet.

In a pivotal moment for the company, the Herrings say in court filings, depositions and sworn statements, unidentified AT&T executives told them there was an audience for another conservative news network. Herring seized the opportunity.

In his 2019 deposition in the labor suit unrelated to AT&T, the elder Herring said he created OAN for two reasons.

“To make money, number one,” Robert Herring said. “But number two, is that AT&T told us … they wanted a conservative network.”

The lawyer questioning Herring, Rodney Diggs, followed up.

“So,” the lawyer said, “AT&T kind of dictated the kind of network that they wanted. Because there was an opportunity, you jumped at it?”

“Yes, sir,” Herring replied.

EQUITY, CELEBRATION, SURPRISE

A few months after launching OAN in July 2013, AT&T proposed acquiring a 5% stake in Herring Networks.

In a sworn statement, OAN president Charles Herring said he accepted the oral offer in October 2013. Emails show that the two sides executed a non-disclosure agreement that December and that AT&T due-diligence executives visited the Herrings in San Diego in January 2014.

But the equity proposal did not materialize into a signed contract. Instead, in April 2014 the two sides signed a more conventional deal: AT&T agreed to pay the Herrings 18 cents per subscriber on U-verse each month for five years. AT&T had 5.7 million U-verse subscribers.

Suddenly, after years of rejection, the Herrings were players.

The joy lasted less than a month. In May 2014, AT&T announced that it planned to acquire the satellite service DirecTV, which had 20 million TV subscribers at the time.

This alarmed the Herrings because their deal with AT&T was limited to U-verse. If AT&T moved all its U-verse customers to DirecTV, the Herrings feared they might receive nothing, court filings show. OAN would lose millions of potential viewers.

To prevent that, Charles Herring hustled to Los Angeles to see a key AT&T executive.

LOBBYING FOR AT&T

That executive, according to Charles Herring’s sworn account in a lawsuit the Herrings would later file against AT&T, was Aaron Slator, then AT&T’s president of content and advertising.

Slator told him AT&T needed help to allay FCC and other officials’ concern that the DirecTV deal – a consolidation of providers – might make it harder for independent networks to get on the air, Charles Herring said.

So, he said in the affidavit, Slator proposed a new deal: If the Herrings lobbied on AT&T’s behalf, AT&T would air OAN and WealthTV on both U-verse and DirecTV. The Herrings would be paid one-third less per subscriber, but because DirecTV had so many more subscribers, the deal could be worth $100 million over five years.

The Herrings got to work.

Charles Herring hired a Washington lobbyist and met with FCC officials, FCC records show. He says he signed a filing of support “ghostwritten by AT&T” and sent it to the FCC. He says he attended a $50,000-per-person Republican fundraiser as part of the campaign.

The Herrings even offered to air positive news about AT&T on OAN, the network said in its lawsuit against AT&T, which said it could not comment on the litigation.

“Herring’s support of AT&T ran deep,” the Herrings’ lawyers wrote. “Herring 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.”

In court records, AT&T denied it made such a deal to carry OAN on DirecTV if the Herrings lobbied for the merger. “Support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement,” an AT&T spokesperson recently told Reuters. Slator, no longer with AT&T, could not be reached for comment.

Another former senior AT&T executive told Reuters the company never made quid-pro-quo offers linking network deals to political support. “You just don’t mix the two,” he said.

In any event, the former executive said, such lobbying by a conservative news channel would be implausible or ineffective because it would have come during the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat. “The Herrings were not going to have influence with Obama’s people,” said the former AT&T official.

The FCC approved the AT&T-DirecTV deal in July 2015.

The Herrings say AT&T still refused to put OAN and WealthTV on DirecTV, leaving them only on the shrinking U-verse platform. In March 2016, the Herrings sued AT&T, alleging it had broken an oral promise.

AT&T denied any wrongdoing, issuing a statement at the time that said, “This lawsuit is simply a ploy by Herring to negotiate a slanted deal.”

The Herrings won a key pretrial ruling from a federal judge, however, and in March 2017, the case was settled on undisclosed terms. A month later, OAN and WealthTV (since renamed AWE) began appearing on DirecTV.

KEEPING HIS NETWORK

On February 5, 2020, the U.S. Senate, sitting as a jury during Trump’s first impeachment trial in Washington, acquitted him of abusing his power for asking Ukraine’s president to launch an investigation into then-candidate Biden.

On the same afternoon, in a San Diego courtroom, Robert Herring sat before a different jury, the one that heard evidence from the OAN accountant in the employment case.

The jury had already found that OAN had wrongly fired the former producer for filing a racial complaint. Now, the jury was considering punitive damages. To help determine an appropriate penalty, the law allowed the jury to hear testimony about OAN’s financial condition.

In addition to testifying that AT&T provided 90% of Herring Networks’ income, the accountant said the company’s book value – the net value of its assets – was a modest $16.6 million.

When Herring took the witness stand, he said OAN’s market value was far higher. He confirmed a 2020 Wall Street Journal report that pro-Trump private equity investors sought to buy OAN for $250 million. Herring told the court he had given the group a few exclusive months to come up with the money but that it had only raised $35 million.

“No way I would sell for $35 million,” Herring testified.

For nearly four decades, Herring had worked closely with his sons to build several successful businesses, including OAN. The network, he said, carried sentimental value.

“I am not sure I want to sell for anything,” he said.

Reporting by John Shiffman in San Diego. Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford, Linda So, Jason Szep and Brad Heath. Editing by Ronnie Greene

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Special Report: How AT&T helped build far-right One America News – Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/how-att-helped-build-far-right-one-america-news-2021-10-06/

SAN DIEGO, Oct 6 (Reuters) – One America News, the far-right network whose fortunes and viewership rose amid the triumph and tumult of the Trump administration, has flourished with support from a surprising source: AT&T Inc, the world’s largest communications company.

A Reuters review of court records shows the role AT&T played in creating and funding OAN, a network that continues to spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during 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 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.”

Dallas-based AT&T, a mobile-phone and Internet provider, also owns entertainment giant Warner Media, which includes CNN and HBO. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and in August spun off the satellite service, retaining a 70% share in the new, independently managed company. AT&T’s total U.S. television subscriber base, including satellite and streaming services, fell from 26 million in 2015 to 15.4 million as of August.

AT&T spokesman Jim Greer declined to comment on the testimony about OAN’s revenue streams, citing confidentiality agreements. He said that DirecTV broadcasts “many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum.”

“We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” Greer said. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

After this story was published, AT&T issued a statement saying it has “never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN.”

Although the contracts are confidential, in court filings Herring cited monthly fees included in one five-year deal with AT&T. According to an AT&T filing citing Herring’s numbers, those fees would total about $57 million. Greer said that figure is inaccurate, but declined to say how much AT&T has paid to air OAN, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Herring and his adult sons own and operate OAN, a subsidiary of their closely held San Diego-based Herring Networks. Their AT&T deal includes Herring’s other network, a little-watched lifestyle channel, AWE. The Herrings declined interview requests.

Herring, who just turned 80, is a self-made businessman who amassed a fortune in the circuit board industry, then turned to television and boxing promotion. 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. 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. In his final two years in office, Trump touted the network, known as @OANN online, to his 88 million Twitter followers at least 120 times.

“Hope everybody is watching @OANN right now,” Trump tweeted on December 1, citing a dubious report about a truck carrying more than 100,000 fake ballots. “Other media afraid to show.”

The state and federal court documents reviewed by Reuters detail a lucrative relationship for OAN with AT&T, even as the two occasionally tangled in court.

The records include a reported offer by AT&T to acquire a 5% equity stake in OAN and AWE, though the two sides ultimately signed a different deal. The court filings also cite a promise by OAN to “cast a positive light” on AT&T during newscasts.

The confidential OAN financial records are drawn in part from testimony, including by Herring and the accountant, generated during a labor lawsuit brought against OAN by a former employee and unrelated to AT&T. When that case went to trial last year, the network’s lawyer told the jury that AT&T was keeping OAN afloat.

“If Herring Networks, for instance, was to lose or not be renewed on DirecTV, the company would go out of business tomorrow,” OAN lawyer Patrick Nellies told the court, a transcript shows.

Researchers who tracked the rise of conservative media pillars Rush Limbaugh and Fox News see similarities between those pioneers to One America News and other new rightwing networks, particularly during their formative years.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the births of Fox News and OAN share common threads: money and opportunity. She noted that the late Republican operative Roger Ailes had the foresight in the 1990s to recommend that Fox create a conservative news network.

“If somebody recognizes there’s a market for something and there’s a lot of money attached to that market, you get a news outlet,” Jamieson said. “So this is AT&T playing the Roger Ailes role.”

Greer, the AT&T spokesman, called that comparison “a ridiculous claim,” noting that other distributors also carry OAN.

A BOOST FROM THE INSURRECTION

America’s post-election turmoil, punctuated by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, continues to roil the country. Dozens of election administrators in battleground states Trump lost have received a barrage of death threats, Reuters has reported. A Reuters poll in May showed that a quarter of Americans – and 53% of Republicans – wrongly believe Trump won the 2020 election.

OAN caters to this audience. Trump’s loss was OAN’s gain, social media data show.

The network’s online audience soared in November, after conservative mainstay and OAN competitor Fox News affirmed Joe Biden’s victory. Trump and his camp blasted Fox. A record 767,000 people installed the OAN app that month, nine times as many as in October, according to data firm Sensor Tower. In January, Trump supporters, including at least one carrying an OAN flag, stormed the U.S. Capitol. That month, app installs spiked again to 517,000.

The OAN website averages 8 million visits a month from desktop and mobile users, having peaked at 15 million from November through January, data firm Similarweb found in an analysis for Reuters. Two in three people on desktop computers return to the website after an initial visit, about the same loyalty rate as Fox News and Newsmax, another rival conservative news channel.

One America’s television ratings are harder to measure, partly because it is available in only about a quarter of the estimated 121 million TV households in the United States. Ratings services Nielsen and Comscore, which both show that Fox News continues to be the leading cable network, do not release OAN figures. In an internal email, an OAN news director told staff that the week of the Capitol assault produced the network’s “best ever” ratings, but gave no statistics.

OAN says it is the fourth-rated news network, behind Fox, CNN and MSNBC, and ahead of CNBC, the BBC and Newsmax, but has not provided figures to back this up. (Each of these networks, including One America News, pays Reuters fees to publish the news service’s stories, videos and/or pictures.)

Even so, the number of viewers OAN reaches may be less important than the kind of observers it attracts and galvanizes, said John Watson, an American University journalism professor specializing in ethics and media law.

“If you have 12 Americans being fed a diet of untruth, that’s 12 too many – and here, it’s literally millions,” Watson said of the OAN audience. “When you have that sort of poisonous influence on mass media, it’s a problem; because elections in the United States tend to be so close, a few percentage points here or there can really make a difference.”

At least one self-described regular OAN viewer recently sent a threatening note to an election official. In August, Sheila Garcia of Riverside County, California, sent Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold a scathing message. Biden beat Trump in Colorado, and Garcia accused Griswold, the state’s top election official, of treason – warning her that punishments for that crime are hanging and legal injection. “Within several months you will have to decide between the two,” Garcia wrote.

In an interview, Griswold said she considered threats like Garcia’s message a credible threat on her life. That threat and dozens of others caused her to seek extra security measures, she said.

Garcia, 55, told Reuters she’s convinced Biden stole the election and said she gets most of her news from OAN. She compared U.S. mainstream media to state propaganda outlets in China and Cuba. Her message to Griswold, she said, was legal. “If you’re afraid of a little old lady in a trailer park in California, I feel sorry for you,” she said in an interview.

Neil W. McCabe, OAN’s former Washington bureau chief and now national political correspondent for The Tennessee Star, rejects the idea that the network is a toxic influence. He said OAN serves an important public role and has earned loyalty from viewers who share a similar world view.

“When you give a voice to the voiceless, you’re going to bond with them,” McCabe told Reuters. “Who else is doing these stories?”

In several instances, records show, the network broadcast statements and theories that were proven false.

YouTube suspended OAN from making money off its YouTube channel last year for, among other things, repeatedly violating its COVID-19 policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure. OAN touts hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug promoted by Trump, without scientific evidence, as a cure for COVID.

During last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, OAN aired an unconfirmed report that an elderly demonstrator in Buffalo, New York, who was knocked down and seriously injured by police was trying to jam the cops’ radios. Trump, citing the OAN story, tweeted that the man “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.”

The false accusation went viral. In the two days after the OAN broadcast, one-third of all online references cited the network, an analysis compiled by Zignal Labs for Reuters found.

On January 6, after Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol, an OAN news director cautioned staff via email, “Please DO NOT say ‘Trump Supporters Storm Capitol …’ Simply call them demonstrators or protestors … DO NOT CALL IT A RIOT!!!”

A day later, Herring suggested the riot might be a false-flag operation by the leftwing Antifa movement. “We want to report all the things Antifa did yesterday. I don’t think it was Trump people but lets investigate,” he emailed OAN producers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says there is no evidence of Antifa involvement in the riot. All but a handful of the some 600 suspects charged so far have been rightwing Trump backers.

The next day, Herring tweeted: “If anyone thinks we will throw the best President America has had, in my 79 years, under the bus, you are wrong. We will continue to give him honest coverage.”

His network went on to support Trump in an unusual way: OAN allowed two reporters to raise $605,000 to help fund a “private” audit of the presidential vote in Arizona, despite Republican officials’ assurances that Biden won the state. According to an OAN executive, they did so with the network’s blessing but in a private capacity.

One of the OAN reporters, Christina Bobb, also worked part-time for the Trump recount legal team, according to a recent deposition by Trump’s then-lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. An OAN executive confirmed the arrangement. Bobb, a lawyer and former Trump administration official, did not reply to a request for comment.

Five former OAN producers said in interviews that they found the practice of reporters raising funds for events they cover unethical, but said OAN’s move did not surprise them.

“If there was any story involving Trump, we had to only focus on either the positive information or basically create positive information,” said Marissa Gonzales, an OAN producer from 2019 until she resigned in 2020. “It was never, never the full truth.”

Since March, OAN has sold hours of infomercial time to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading purveyor of false claims the election was stolen. Lindell has used that time on OAN to repeatedly broadcast his election conspiracy “docu-movies.” A primary Lindell target is Dominion Voting Systems Inc, whose machines count votes in 28 states and use paper ballots and records for auditing.

In August, Dominion sued OAN for defamation. “OAN saw a business opportunity” and fueled bogus conspiracies about alleged vote tampering, Dominion contended. “OAN helped create and cultivate an alternate reality where up is down, pigs have wings,” the lawsuit said.

The network’s lawyers have said in letters to Dominion that the election coverage is protected free speech and that the Lindell programs include a disclaimer that they are “opinions only and are not intended to be taken or interpreted by the viewer as established facts.”

Other Trump supporters, including Lindell and lawyers Giuliani and Sidney Powell, offered a similar free speech defense in related lawsuits brought by Dominion. In August, a federal judge said the Lindell, Giuliani and Powell cases should proceed toward trial, noting that the Constitution does not necessarily offer “blanket immunity for statements that are political in nature.”

Generally, the network runs few commercials compared to its competitors, and former bureau chief McCabe said the paucity of advertising is a kind of superpower. The network’s reliance on fees from cable, satellite and streaming providers, instead of commercials, inoculates it from advertiser boycotts faced by counterparts such as Fox News and rightwing online news site Breitbart, in McCabe’s view.

“Because they basically live off the cable and satellite fees, nobody can organize a protest against One America News,” McCabe said.

AT&T & OAN: ORIGIN STORY

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, Robert Herring Sr, with sons Charles and Robert Jr, created highly successful and profitable circuit board companies. They sold one such business in 1988 for about $52 million and another two in 2000 for $122 million.

In 2004, they created a television network called WealthTV, a channel dedicated to affluent lifestyles – yachts, mega-mansions and private jets.

It proved to be a tough sell. Most cable and satellite providers declined to carry it, even when the Herrings offered WealthTV at a discount, or even for free, just to get it on air. “We went to every place you could think of, begging to get on,” Herring said last year on his network.

In 2007 and 2008, Herring petitioned the Federal Communications Commission and courts for help, alleging that the large cable providers favored networks they owned or co-owned, discriminating against independent broadcasters like him. The providers countered that they had the right to broadcast channels they believed provided the best content.

The FCC concluded that the providers had exercised appropriate business discretion and a federal court affirmed that decision. The Herring litigation irritated some providers, lawyers for two carriers told Reuters, making it even harder to get WealthTV on cable or satellite.

Still, the Herrings say they developed a good relationship with AT&T, which began carrying WealthTV in 2006 through U-verse, an Internet set-top box service that can access live TV and video on demand. By 2012, WealthTV had evolved, carrying news updates and live boxing. The Herrings were keen to leverage their existing production facilities in San Diego to launch a second network, either a boxing channel or news outlet.

In a pivotal moment for the company, the Herrings say in court filings, depositions and sworn statements, unidentified AT&T executives told them there was an audience for another conservative news network. Herring seized the opportunity.

In his 2019 deposition in the labor suit unrelated to AT&T, the elder Herring said he created OAN for two reasons.

“To make money, number one,” Robert Herring said. “But number two, is that AT&T told us … they wanted a conservative network.”

The lawyer questioning Herring, Rodney Diggs, followed up.

“So,” the lawyer said, “AT&T kind of dictated the kind of network that they wanted. Because there was an opportunity, you jumped at it?”

“Yes, sir,” Herring replied.

EQUITY, CELEBRATION, SURPRISE

A few months after launching OAN in July 2013, AT&T proposed acquiring a 5% stake in Herring Networks.

In a sworn statement, OAN president Charles Herring said he accepted the oral offer in October 2013. Emails show that the two sides executed a non-disclosure agreement that December and that AT&T due-diligence executives visited the Herrings in San Diego in January 2014.

But the equity proposal did not materialize into a signed contract. Instead, in April 2014 the two sides signed a more conventional deal: AT&T agreed to pay the Herrings 18 cents per subscriber on U-verse each month for five years. AT&T had 5.7 million U-verse subscribers.

Suddenly, after years of rejection, the Herrings were players.

The joy lasted less than a month. In May 2014, AT&T announced that it planned to acquire the satellite service DirecTV, which had 20 million TV subscribers at the time.

This alarmed the Herrings because their deal with AT&T was limited to U-verse. If AT&T moved all its U-verse customers to DirecTV, the Herrings feared they might receive nothing, court filings show. OAN would lose millions of potential viewers.

To prevent that, Charles Herring hustled to Los Angeles to see a key AT&T executive.

LOBBYING FOR AT&T

That executive, according to Charles Herring’s sworn account in a lawsuit the Herrings would later file against AT&T, was Aaron Slator, then AT&T’s president of content and advertising.

Slator told him AT&T needed help to allay FCC and other officials’ concern that the DirecTV deal – a consolidation of providers – might make it harder for independent networks to get on the air, Charles Herring said.

So, he said in the affidavit, Slator proposed a new deal: If the Herrings lobbied on AT&T’s behalf, AT&T would air OAN and WealthTV on both U-verse and DirecTV. The Herrings would be paid one-third less per subscriber, but because DirecTV had so many more subscribers, the deal could be worth $100 million over five years.

The Herrings got to work.

Charles Herring hired a Washington lobbyist and met with FCC officials, FCC records show. He says he signed a filing of support “ghostwritten by AT&T” and sent it to the FCC. He says he attended a $50,000-per-person Republican fundraiser as part of the campaign.

The Herrings even offered to air positive news about AT&T on OAN, the network said in its lawsuit against AT&T, which said it could not comment on the litigation.

“Herring’s support of AT&T ran deep,” the Herrings’ lawyers wrote. “Herring 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.”

In court records, AT&T denied it made such a deal to carry OAN on DirecTV if the Herrings lobbied for the merger. “Support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement,” an AT&T spokesperson recently told Reuters. Slator, no longer with AT&T, could not be reached for comment.

Another former senior AT&T executive told Reuters the company never made quid-pro-quo offers linking network deals to political support. “You just don’t mix the two,” he said.

In any event, the former executive said, such lobbying by a conservative news channel would be implausible or ineffective because it would have come during the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat. “The Herrings were not going to have influence with Obama’s people,” said the former AT&T official.

The FCC approved the AT&T-DirecTV deal in July 2015.

The Herrings say AT&T still refused to put OAN and WealthTV on DirecTV, leaving them only on the shrinking U-verse platform. In March 2016, the Herrings sued AT&T, alleging it had broken an oral promise.

AT&T denied any wrongdoing, issuing a statement at the time that said, “This lawsuit is simply a ploy by Herring to negotiate a slanted deal.”

The Herrings won a key pretrial ruling from a federal judge, however, and in March 2017, the case was settled on undisclosed terms. A month later, OAN and WealthTV (since renamed AWE) began appearing on DirecTV.

KEEPING HIS NETWORK

On February 5, 2020, the U.S. Senate, sitting as a jury during Trump’s first impeachment trial in Washington, acquitted him of abusing his power for asking Ukraine’s president to launch an investigation into then-candidate Biden.

On the same afternoon, in a San Diego courtroom, Robert Herring sat before a different jury, the one that heard evidence from the OAN accountant in the employment case.

The jury had already found that OAN had wrongly fired the former producer for filing a racial complaint. Now, the jury was considering punitive damages. To help determine an appropriate penalty, the law allowed the jury to hear testimony about OAN’s financial condition.

In addition to testifying that AT&T provided 90% of Herring Networks’ income, the accountant said the company’s book value – the net value of its assets – was a modest $16.6 million.

When Herring took the witness stand, he said OAN’s market value was far higher. He confirmed a 2020 Wall Street Journal report that pro-Trump private equity investors sought to buy OAN for $250 million. Herring told the court he had given the group a few exclusive months to come up with the money but that it had only raised $35 million.

“No way I would sell for $35 million,” Herring testified.

For nearly four decades, Herring had worked closely with his sons to build several successful businesses, including OAN. The network, he said, carried sentimental value.

“I am not sure I want to sell for anything,” he said.

Reporting by John Shiffman in San Diego. Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford, Linda So, Jason Szep and Brad Heath. Editing by Ronnie Greene

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.