- One America News is a lesser-known news outlet that has seemingly won President Donald Trump’s stamp of approval.
- The six-year-old network is something of a surprise competitor for Trump’s long-touted favourite and massive conservative mainstay, Fox News.
- I watched the network’s news and opinion programming for a week to see for myself how the network might have caught his eye.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Fox News, a longstanding favourite news outlet of conservatives, spent the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration largely avoiding his fiery insults of the news industry.
Recently, however, the network has faced his wrath as it has appeared openly conflicted over the president’s impeachment troubles and slowed its on-air tokens of goodwill. As Trump has grown more open with his disappointment in Fox, one network appears poised to take the spot of Trump’s favourite.
One America News is a lesser-known outlet that has seemingly won Trump’s stamp of approval after dedicating huge amounts of coverage to the administration, including airing Trump’s rallies in full and having opinion anchors casting impeachment proceedings by House Democrats as a lie-ridden “frenzy.“
Ratings show the network’s rising popularity. As of March 2019, data measured by media analytics company Comscore shows that among Cable, News/ Business/ Info networks, OAN ranked as the fourth-highest service in that genre, behind Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN, beating out big names like CNN Headline News, Fox Business Channel, CNBC, BBC World News, Fusion, Bloomberg.
After seeing the network clash with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow who called it “paid Russian propaganda,” and Trump’s repeated praise for the six-year-old network on Twitter, I wanted to see more of the attention-grabbing network.
This is what I learned about OANN after watching it for a week.
The channel was formally launched at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, which is an annual gathering of conservative voters and figureheads.
Since its founding, the network was reported to be blatantly “pro-Trump” and sparked concern with broadcasts that included exaggerated and false stories, which became more noticeable as Trump ramped up his public support while in office.
As Trump grew more openly supportive of the network, he would parrot headlines and stories online and has consequently tweeted baseless conspiracy theories that OAN had reported as fact.
One such example came in April 2019, when Trump tweeted an OAN headline repeating a claim by Larry Johnson that the UK intelligence assisted the Obama administration in spying on the Trump campaign. Johnson is a former CIA officer featured on the network who has been known to traffic in conspiracy theories about Democrats,. There’s no evidence that this is true.
Trump has also said that his favour for the network is rising as his criticisms of Fox News have increased.
“@FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore,” he wrote on Twitter in October 2019. “It is so different than it used to be.”
The tweet came one day after Fox News released poll results that showed 51% of Americans want Trump impeached and removed from office.
After tweeting the bash on Fox News, he pivoted to praising the smaller conservative network, writing: “Thank you to @OANN One America News for your fair coverage and brilliant reporting. It is appreciated by many people trying so hard to find a new, consistent and powerful VOICE!”
Trump’s outward preference for the six-year-old network comes after the channel reportedly ordered that it would extend wall-to-wall coverage to all of Trump’s appearances in the 2016 election, which continued into his presidency.
Though the directive could be read as an order to curry as much favour as possible for Trump, Charles Herring told the Guardian in June 2019 that the move had nothing to do with the president’s politics, but was merely “a function of the news.”
I didn’t have access to the network through television, so I streamed it online through the KlowdTV service, which I noticed offers packages that include InfoWars and RT.
A basic KlowdTV package offers OAN and its sister network, A Wealth of Entertainment, alongside three versions of RT, a Russian news network that has been repeatedly described as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin, and Info Wars, the broadcast arm of the conspiracy website.
I kept it simple with the $US4.99 monthly plan.
Klowd’s homepage included a massive banner advertising the network’s take on “The Cost of Illegal Immigration.”
Considering the cost of illegal immigration is a frequent talking point of Trump and right-wing figures eager to crack down on immigration policy, I felt I got a solid gist of what the network wanted to talk about before I had started watching.
In my first hours watching, I noticed the network’s daily coverage moves at a breakneck pace, covering a mix of US politics, international news, and local news stories.
The 60- and 30-minute long blocks of news looked similar to other 24/7 networks like CNN and Fox News, with a logo-anchor-banner construction that tended to tackle top political stories first, which were often led with Trump’s tweets, before peppering in smaller general news stories.
The stories seemed to come straight off the home page of a wire service, spanning general and human-interest stories. The ones aired on October 15 in the 9 a.m. ET news block included a new record for the largest pumpkin in California, a man turning himself in for three murders in a small California town, and a public statement from kidnapping victim Jayme Closs.
Other segments that were offshoots of initial reports openly championed Trump’s actions without offering basic information about what was going on.
“President Trump is fighting hard against both Republicans and Democrats to de-escalate the war in Syria and bring US troops home alive,” the anchor said before handing it off to a voice-over from producer Pearson Sharp.
OAN’s coverage of Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria stands out in an environment where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and scores of military officials have decried the move as a dangerous and embarrassing rupture in the US role in the Middle East.
But Sharp didn’t present the pull-out as anything of the sort, and instead framed Trump’s move as a departure from two previous administrations that pushed war and bloodshed. “Trump is doing everything in his power to shed light on the situation and keep our men and women safe,” he said.
Since I was familiar with Republican lawmakers’ negative reactions to Trump’s announcement, Sharp’s segment, which was primarily dedicated to detailing US troops’ deaths under former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, came off as flattering for Trump, but vague and confusing.
Other parts of the block, like the daily graphic ticking away astronomically high figures related to the alleged cost of undocumented immigration, caught my eye as a blatant play to spark urgent concern among viewers.
Though the graphic lists the Department of Homeland Security as a source, DHS estimates that 12 million unauthorised immigrants were living in the United States in January 2015, compared to 11.5 million in January 2014.
Even at this rate of growth, the graphic’s estimate of the current number of “total illegal aliens” at more than 26 million seemed overblown. In 2017, Pew Research Centre estimated that there were 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
It was unclear where the rest of the numbers OAN displayed came from exactly, which the network has previously caught criticism for when the same graphic was at the centre of controversy earlier this year after Trump tweeted the “nonsensical figures” from the graphic.
Trump tagged the Department of Homeland Security, but the Washington Post took him to task and traced the figures to an OAN report. At the time, the graphic said “all aliens,” meaning they could have combined figures from a wide variety of costs sparked by immigration.
Though myriad reports from several different immigration interest groups exist, the graphic is vastly simplifying the costs of immigration, which can range from public resources to federal detention.
“The Daily Ledger” airs at 8 p.m. daily and kicks off the network’s signature opinion show lineup.
Ledger was my introduction to the network’s block of opinion programming, as his hour-long show is spent taking aim at liberal lawmakers and policies.
I had read about Ledger’s bombastic broadcast style, in which he flatly dismisses issues like climate change, decries a “fascist left radical ideology,” and claims the United States is “the least racist nation.”
Those claims can be shocking to some on paper, and I am wary of reading bits of a report without context. However, when I tuned in, Ledger was already revving up to deliver more definitive takes.
“Phony partisan impeachment inquiry driven by the Democrat caucus in the House of Representatives is unconstitutional and it is in violation,” Ledger said in a recent episode.
Ledger was, of course, referring to the legitimately elected Democratic majority in the House. He echoed a point White House counsel member Pat Cipollone made in a letter to lawmakers slamming the inquiry as “baseless, unconstitutional.” This was widely dismissed as a fiery distraction tactic on behalf of the president, but Ledger stated it as fact.
Ledger then presented the story of a Virginia teacher who said he was fired for not using a student’s preferred pronouns and lamented what he called the “pronoun hell our culture is being pulled down into.” As he spoke, the banners flashed “embracing Judeo-Christian values” and “Constitutional concerns.”
It’s easy to imagine how Ledger’s show, with his claims of “constitutional travesty” and critiques of “radical” people and the “fascist Left,” would be pleasing to Trump, serving him good headlines or certain issues that could light the fire behind his next tweet.
The president shortly thereafter delivered on that hypothesis, quoting Ledger by name and doubling down on the host’s “Constitutional Travesty” claim in a tweet, adding that it was “the likes of which we have never seen before. It is Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi who should be impeached for fraud!”
Way before the hour timeslot was up, the show left me feeling angry and suspicious that almost every person in a position of power was trying to suppress my freedom.
Ledger’s sign-off left me scratching my head when he told the audience, in what could serve as an ironclad boost of his credibility after an hour of bombastic claims, to remember that “Even when I’m wrong, I’m right.”
“The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler” was the cherry on top of the opinion programming, revving me up about holes in coverage from the “mainstream media” and what she portrayed as signs of a culture war.
I couldn’t shake comparing Wheeler, who is billed on the show’s official YouTube page as a “conservative firebrand” who is “not afraid to take on liberals,” to conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, a similarly stern-toned platinum blonde who got her start on the network.
Wheeler takes a more wide-ranging approach to providing commentary on specific stories than Ledger, but is similarly quick to point a finger at Democratic lawmakers and “liberals” in general.
Over the course of the week, Wheeler unsurprisingly broke down the presidential debates and discussed the impeachment inquiry, but offered more targeted angles like when she balked at the murder of a transgender person by an illegal immigrant, suggesting a wall would have stopped him, and made a misleading claim that CNN guidelines designated using incorrect pronouns for an individual as violence.
I didn’t feel that I was getting the full scope on any of the hot-button stories she discussed, but I could see why I had previously read about her repeating debunked conspiracy theories and dismissing conversations about sensitive topics like the complexities of gender and identity.
Opinion programming is not exempt from the network’s wall-to-wall Trump coverage, as one recent night of Wheeler’s show was previously scrapped to air Trump’s October 10 “Make America Great Again” rally in full.
The cherry on top of my OANN experience came in the Friday night “special report,” which I could only describe as a 30-minute commercial that presents cherry-picked pictures and talking points to tout how Trump is apparently leading the most victorious administration in US history.
Correspondent Pearson Sharp said the 30-minute program would tell “an unbelievable story you won’t hear anywhere else,” and I soon found that I was truly not able to believe much of the program’s information.
Speaking over a symphony of stirring patriotic music, Sharp said that “America has gone from divided, tearing itself apart to a nation that’s flourishing, with people from all walks of life coming together as Americans.”
It wasn’t clear what kind of timeline Sharp was speaking to, and it struck me as confusing that he was telling me we had reached a harmonious state as a country, given that my hours spent watching the network over the previous week had presented me with endless reasons as to why I should be very concerned about my freedom being compromised in looming culture and political wars that are being waged by the “Radical Left.”
“Divisiveness in spite of the negative rhetoric,” Sharp said in front of a picture of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, “the vicious attacks from the media, despite the hatred and the lies of the Radical Left, America is finally succeeding again.”
“Though he doesn’t get much credit for it, America’s turnaround is all thanks to one man: President Donald Trump,” Sharp boomed into the camera.
Pearson lamented that the “mainstream media” wouldn’t report on this, before rolling footage of Trump signing a sex-trafficking crackdown bill (it was also aired on CNN) and touting Trump as a friend to the environment.
Sharp, who made sure to reference the former president as “Barack Hussein Obama,” is an investigative reporter at the network and the program was billed under “One America News Investigates,” but I couldn’t tell where the team did any investigation for the program, which appeared to be rearranged and fleshed-out reading of the White House’s list of the administration’s accomplishments.
Though the opinion programming took up only 1/6 of the network’s daily schedule, it had the most potent effect on me as a viewer and one that sent me on a Googling spree to see where the line between opinion and fact fell in each report.
The more subtle signs of bias in the news blocks that I noticed matched some former employees’ accounts of the ways the network’s non-opinion programming lent itself to the personal politics of OAN President and the son of the network’s founder, Charles Herring.
This matched up with previously reported accounts from former employees who described a newsroom that was closely controlled by Herring.
“We started out with the premise of news straight down the middle,” Cassie Leuffen, an anchor at OAN from 2013 through the 2016 election, told the Washington Post. “But the bias does reveal itself in the story selection. The owner really felt this was what was needed. He saw the popularity of Trump before almost anybody, and Trump became our bread and butter.”
I noticed that even the news broadcasts during the day would feature people who were associated with right-wing organisations or appeared Trump-friendly; whether it was Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a frequent guest on the network,gushing about how he thinks Trump has another presidential victory in 2020; or Jack Posobiec, an alt-right activist, conspiracy theorist, and OAN political correspondent, slamming Hunter Biden’s public retreat from foreign business dealingsas evidence of pay-for-play politics, which has been widely disputed.
My concern was shared by a former employee who said company insiders worried about the network’s content.
Herring has said the network is firmly based on providing “hard news, fast-paced, no fluff, no opinion.” But as the network’s star continues to rise and its reporting adds fire to Trump and his base, Herring’s preferences could have a concerning influence over a growing audience.
A former OAN employee told me their time at the network was filled with near-constant moral concerns that were ultimately irrelevant because, as far as employees are concerned, “the only audience we cared about was Mr. H., the CEO. Everything is tailored to make him happy.”
The former writer and producer said that Herring would send stories from Breitbart, a far-right website, and Fox News down the editorial food chain to be covered, whether or not they were based in fact.
“[As a producer,] I monitored the content and would make sure unless it was a must-run, if it was totally conspiracy, I would say ‘we’re just going to float that and not run it right now, we’re not going to go wacko when I’m in charge,” they said. “It comes down to who might happen to be in charge that day.”
“You know that you’re contributing to people’s radicalisation or at least are forming a part of their echo chamber to confirm their beliefs,” the former employee said. “That was definitely something I’ve thought about.”
I first became aware of OAN when a relative recommended that I watch it for “unbiased news,” but my time as a viewer left me with serious concerns about its growing audience.
I started my week of watching OAN expecting a tilt towards Trump – which I found in the daily news’ dedication to reporting his tweets, favouring quotes from Republican lawmakers, and slamming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – but I was genuinely shocked at the definitive nature with which anchors and hosts reported over-simplified and shared untrue claims.
As Fox News appears to be facing an identity crisis over its personalities’ reactions to impeachment proceedings facing Trump, I could easily see this more cohesive and intoxicating brand of right-leaning reporting blooming as the 2020 Election draws closer, pulling some conservative or Trump-supporting American voters further into corners of media that feel like home.