AT&T is called out for connection to far right media outlet OAN

AT&T had a tough week. On Wednesday, Reuters published a special investigative report that claims 90% of right-wing propaganda TV community OAN’s income got here from a carriage contract with AT&T-owned or managed tv platforms, together with satellite tv for pc broadcaster DirecTV, in accordance to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.

The Reuters investigation discovered that the world’s largest communications firm—proprietor of WarnerMedia, HBO, CNN, and DirecTV—additionally performed an important function in creating OAN, which continues to unfold conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic. OAN founder and chief government Robert Herring Sr testified in courtroom paperwork seen by Reuters that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 got here from AT&T executives. Herring mentioned, “They advised us they wished a conservative community. They solely had one, which was Fox Information, they usually had seven others on the opposite [left wing] facet. After they mentioned that, I jumped to it and constructed one.” The majority of OAN’s funding seems to come from subscriber charges for ATT-Owned DirecTV. Herring has testified he was supplied $250 million for OAN in 2019, and a community accountant mentioned beneath oath that with out the DirecTV deal, the community’s worth “can be zero.”

AT&T has responded to the report denying it funds OAN tweeting, “AT&T has by no means had a monetary curiosity in OAN’s success and doesn’t ‘fund’ OAN. When AT&T acquired DirecTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DirecTV in consequence. 4 years in the past, DirecTV reached a industrial carriage settlement with OAN, because it has with lots of of different channels and as OAN has with different TV suppliers that carry its programming.”

DirecTV is a separate firm, however one which is nonetheless 70% owned by AT&T, which sold off 30% in August to private equity firm TPG. Whether or not DirecTV is a subsidiary of AT&T or simply majority-owned by the telecom big, this story’s reflection on AT&T’s model picture stay the identical. And it’s not good.  For a corporation that owns liberal-leaning CNN, and requires vaccine and mask mandates for its own employees, to be related to the conspiracy theories and misinformation of OAN, may to some have the looks of name hypocrisy.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, a Democratic consultant from Ohio, said in a statement, “AT&T’s help of OAN is in direct opposition to its claims of embracing and valuing variety, fairness, and inclusion.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson additionally put out a statement, saying that via its affiliation with OAN, AT&T has achieved irreparable injury to American democracy. “AT&T’s values couldn’t be any extra performative and flat-out faux. We’re sickened by these revelations,” mentioned Johnson.

With all of this bother, AT&T could be glad they’re getting out of the media sport. The corporate is within the technique of merging WarnerMedia’s media properties with Discovery Inc. to kind a brand new stand-alone firm called Warner Bros. Discovery. The deal is expected to close by mid-2022.

Nonetheless, model and advertising executives I spoke to, beneath situation of anonymity, mentioned that this shut connection to the founding and funding of OAN will undoubtedly influence the AT&T model, each with on a regular basis prospects and company companions. “There might be some actual model injury,” mentioned one exec. “If the final 18 months has taught us something it is we’ve formally left the period of shareholder capitalism and into the period of stakeholder capitalism now. It was an enormous underestimation of the general public that they thought they might fund OAN and never be accountable for that content material. Fashionable customers maintain manufacturers accountable for all the pieces.”

Other than its personal direct model picture, the model advertising execs see this additionally having blowback throughout AT&T’s owned properties like WarnerMedia, HBO, CNN, in addition to main sponsorship companions just like the NBA, WNBA, and NFL. Simply as Major League Baseball pulled its 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta after Georgia handed new restrictive voting legal guidelines, AT&T companions gained’t need to have even a whiff of a connection to OAN. “You higher imagine that there are lots of people right now in conflict rooms with attorneys right now analyzing all the exit clauses in contracts to see if AT&T is in violation of it,” mentioned one exec.

Whereas there was loads of media consideration on the Reuters report, there have been no broad shopper calls for an organization boycott. AT&T and its companions may merely trip out the charging tempo of the ever-churning information cycle. Fb has been publicly linked to divisive content material, well being misinformation and radicalization, not to point out hyperlinks to teen melancholy, and its inventory is nonetheless crusing alongside high quality. Nonetheless, that doesn’t preclude no influence in any respect on the model.

One other advertising exec speculated the majority of name injury shall be inner, with leaders inside CNN, HBO, and WarnerMedia questioning why they’re now related to OAN in any approach, and the way which will influence their potential to entice and retain expertise. In that approach, it may simply expedite AT&T’s need to promote the opposite 70% of its DirecTV enterprise. “That bundle (DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse video companies) is value $16 billion, which is peanuts subsequent to the $100 billion they need their general content material enterprise to be value,” mentioned the exec. “Why take that danger?”