An investigative report by Reuters published earlier this month revealed that telecom giant AT&T played a critical role in creating and funding One America News Network, or OAN, a cable TV channel that regularly serves as an echo chamber for Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and disseminates lethal disinformation about the global COVID-19 pandemic.
OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives. Reuters reports that since then, AT&T has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, with 90 percent of OAN’s revenue coming from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV that has millions of subscribers.
Asserting that “AT&T is actively helping to bring down our democracy and disappear Black votes,” racial justice organization Color of Change, and other groups, are now demanding that AT&T end all of its financial support for OAN. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Evan Feeney, Color of Change campaign director, who talks about AT&T’s relationship with far-right media outlet One America News, and his group’s campaign demanding AT&T sever all ties to OAN.
EVAN FEENEY: AT&T has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of enabling dangerous far-right companies and extremists beyond just the One America News Network. Examples of the horrible things that they’re putting out there — from enabling white supremacy, COVID-19 conspiracies, doubling down on the Jan. 6th insurrection narratives. Even around that, like AT&T has supported insurrectionist members of Congress who attempted to vote to overturn the 2020 presidential election. They’re one of the many powerful companies that, in the days after the insurrection said, We’re going to halt political donations to congressional insurrectionists. And within weeks, they were already back to cutting checks to those members of Congress. And, even more recently than that, AT&T has been one of the most significant funders of Texas lawmakers who sponsored the recent abortion legislation, which has essentially made abortion illegal in the state of Texas. And so, AT&T has really this year demonstrated a real consistent pattern of enabling far-right misinformation, election lies and hate.
SCOTT HARRIS: In the Reuters article, AT&T is described as offering a lot of funding. But more importantly, a platform, an invaluable platform on DirectTV to getaway its message into some 30 million homes across the country.
EVAN FEENEY: Yeah, something like that. But for the most part, it’s furnishing them with this platform because no other major media network, a media communications platform in the country is providing one for One America News Network. Comcast refuses to give them one. Verizon refuses to give them one. So at the end of the day, AT&T through DirecTV is solely responsible for keeping this misinformation network up and running. OAN’s own CEO in a deposition revealed in the Reuters article himself said that without AT&T’s support, his company could not exist.
SCOTT HARRIS: Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said recently that AT&T is actively helping to bring down our democracy and disappear black voters. And there’s been a demand from your group that AT&T sever all ties to OAN. Give us some of the details about this campaign and the strategy around it.
EVAN FEENEY: Yeah. Happy to provide some background on the campaign. So For Color of Change, our expertise really is in holding corporations accountable, especially when those corporations put out statements and tweets and Instagram posts telling us that they’re here with us. That they stand with black communities, that they believe in racial justice and equity and equality as AT&T has repeatedly done over the last year, following last summer’s uprisings. And what we’re seeing this year in particular is a company not willing to act on those stated values. And so what we’re working to do is to publicly show that juxtaposition of what AT&T says it does versus what what it actually does and for the company to make a choice to either live up to those values or to turn away from them. And so like, this is very much rooted in a sense of public accountability of AT&T, their leaders, their staff. You’ll have to go home to their families, their communities, and look them in the eye and say we actually reject the values that we say we care about.
SCOTT HARRIS: How best to apply public pressure to AT&T? They’re one of the largest telecom companies in this country. And if not the world. Do they care about what people around the country generally or their customers think? Is their brand vulnerable here to criticism that could cost them profits, which is probably what they’re most concerned about?
EVAN FEENEY: I absolutely think that they are. I think it was just a couple of weeks ago that AT&T CEO John Stankey, he spoke a big game about how he’s real concerned about AT&T’s brand image out in the world right now. And so there’s a real moment and opportunity here for, you know, our communities to come together, and tell AT&T what we think of their brand, how it should be shaped. Moving forward, that includes cutting ties with dangerous content platforms, like the One America News Network.
Easiest way to get involved is to support our campaign and sign the petition. You can text ATT to 55156, or you can visit our website Color of Change.org. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We’re constantly putting out links to the petition, informational graphics that show folks different ways to engage around this wor
For more information, visit Color of Change at colorofchange.org.