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Coverage of OAN's likely demise reminds us that conspiracy theories are not "conservative"
Also: Recapping shameless MLK Day tweets.
I’m not exactly sure what it means to be “conservative” these days, but I do know that it’s supposed to stand for something more dignified than spreading conspiracy theories and promoting a cult of personality.
But mainstream reporting is using the term as a euphemism for exactly those things. This confused state of affairs was illustrated over the weekend by coverage of the news that DirecTV is dropping One America News Network (OAN) — a development that may ultimately be the death knell for the Trumpiest of the pro-Trump propaganda TV channels.
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There’s no meaningful sense in which OAN is “conservative.” The network spent the Trump years using its access to the administration to push long-debunked conspiracy theories like “Obamagate,” and now is a haven for Trump’s Big Lie about the election and dangerous misinformation about Covid vaccines. Just last week, an OAN host who had recently conducted a fawning interview with Trump likened him to Jesus.
Put bluntly, OAN is Trump cult TV. Like the Republican Party, which didn’t have a platform in 2020 and won’t have a legislative agenda to run on this year, its programming doesn’t have a coherent identity beyond Trump worship and owning the libs. And yet for whatever reason, a number of major outlets covered the news that DirecTV is dropping it by whitewashing the channel as “conservative.”
Consider this headline from Bloomberg:
Or this lede from Reuters, which describes OAN as a “popular news network,” which is actually arguable at best for reasons I’ll get into later.
Worst of all is a report from the Wall Street Journal that doesn’t even mention OAN’s reputation for spreading conspiracy theories or misinformation, but instead describes it as a “pro-Trump channel.”
Why does this matter? As CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy put it in a Twitter thread highlighting some of the above examples, coverage of this sort is not only misleading, but it also says something troubling about big outlets’ unwillingness to clearly describe what’s happening at a moment when the information war has become central to our politics.
Darcy does great work, but there’s some irony in a CNN reporter making this critique. The parent company of CNN, AT&T, is primarily responsible for OAN’s rise and also played a role in its fall. Reuters broke news last October about how AT&T executives inspired Robert Herring Sr. to launch OAN in 2013. AT&T also owns 70 percent of DirecTV, which is far and away OAN’s largest carrier and provided about 90 percent of its revenue. AT&T even offered to buy the company outright from Herring Networks, a private company owned by Herring and his sons. Now, the telecoms giant will effectively scuttle it.
OAN’s demise is a blow to Trump
In a statement announcing it will not sign a new contract with OAN when the current one expires later this year, a DirecTV spokesperson said the decision was made following “a routine internal review.” That doesn’t explain much, but part of DirecTV’s rationale likely had to do with the fact OAN’s average audience is minuscule not only compared to the ratings behemoth that is Fox News, but also relative to Newsmax, which is far smaller than Fox.
But despite its small audience, Trump seems to understand that OAN going dark would be bad news for him. He brought it up during his rally Saturday night in Arizona, lamenting (ironically) that, thanks to “woke executives,” outlets that are “telling the truth in America like One America News are being threatened.” He suggested people boycott AT&T, ignoring that without it OAN likely wouldn’t exist in the first place.
OAN treats Trump as a God-King of sorts, so it’s no wonder the channel has emerged as his preferred destination for softball interviews. He even used one of them to absurdly accuse Fox News — the Trump propaganda channel that used to be his favorite before it became the first network to call Arizona for Biden — of being part of a cabal that stole the 2020 election from him.
Trump still has other places he can go for interviews of this sort — he did one with Newsmax that I wrote about recently in this newsletter — but AT&T pulling the financial plug on one of America’s most notorious sources of misinformation and conspiracy theories is significant on its own terms. Lis Power, director of media intelligence for Media Matters, went as far as to describe OAN’s likely downfall as “the best news for democracy we’ve had had this week, maybe this year.”
Politicians who are working to restrict voting should probably sit MLK Day out
If reporting about OAN highlights confusion about what “conservative” means, a number of statements from lawmakers about Martin Luther King Jr. Day indicated something similar about their understanding of what MLK stood for.
As Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, the real MLK “was a radical critic of racism, capitalism, and militarism” who engaged in the sort of systemic thinking about racial and economic justice that would be labeled as “critical race theory” these days. So especially shameless was Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to justify his CRT ban by invoking the one and only MLK quote with which many Republicans are apparently familiar.
Another Republican governor, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, signed laws last year banning the teaching of critical race theory and restricting voting rights, and is currently pushing to ban the teachings of books written by Black and LGBTQ authors — but that didn’t stop her from posting an MLK Day tweet.
I’m not going to provide an exhaustive list of all the tone-deaf MLK Day tweets, but it’s also worth mentioning ones coming from Republican senators who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election (see these from Tommy Tuberville, Rick Scott, Roger Marshall, Cynthia Lummis, John Kennedy, and Josh Hawley) based on lies that are now being used to pass new voter restriction laws.
And, last but not least, days after she derailed Democratic efforts to pass federal legislation that would counteract those new state-level voting restrictions, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema posted an MLK Day tweet that, as the ratio of replies to retweets indicates, did not go over well.
Some, apparently, remember MLK’s life and legacy better than others.
Trump had his first rally of 2022
As I mentioned briefly earlier, Trump had a rally on Saturday night in Arizona. You can check out my video thread covering it starting here.
Although his incendiary lie about white people being denied Covid vaccines was new and notable, Trump’s speech didn’t generate a ton of news. But if you’d like to read my thoughts about the complexities involved in covering this post-presidency version of Trump, I discussed my approach in depth in one of my first Public Notice newsletters.
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That’s it until tomorrow!