For some time now, and particularly since his election loss, the romance between Donald Trump and Fox News has appeared to be souring. The president has depicted Fox News’s actions on election night, and in the days since, as unforgivable acts of betrayal – and is now urging his supporters to turn to One America News Network (OANN), a far-right media outlet .
On Sunday, annoyed by the appearance of former Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg on Fox News, Trump tweeted: “This is why @FoxNews daytime and weekend daytime have lost their ratings... Many great alternatives are forming & exist. Try @OANN & @newsmax, among others!”
That tweet came after another outburst on Saturday – in which Trump claimed that the Fox had downplayed the size of Million Maga March protests – and another on Thursday, which he followed up with a volley of retweets demanding that conservatives make the switch to more reliable vectors of pro-Trump broadcasting.
Considering Trump’s considerable gifts as a salesman, OANN is set to hugely benefit from his push. But what do we know about them, and how has the network attracted the president’s favor?
OANN was founded in 2013 in San Diego, California. It is owned by Herring Broadcasting, a family company founded by rightwing businessman Robert Herring, and is led by his son, Charles Herring.
The network has spent most of its history in the long shadow cast by Fox, competing for the attention of conservatives with a wave of strident rightwing commentators on various social media platforms.
At first, OANN struggled to register with viewers or forge itself a distinct identity. Any notice they received in their first few years mostly came as a result of viral rants from their breakout star, Tomi Lahren, who worked there for a year from August 2014 before leaving for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze on her way to Fox’s subscription streaming service, Fox Nation. Lahren’s presence exemplified the network’s tenor at that time: a harder-edged Fox, minus the audience.
The network finally found its metier with the ascendancy of Donald Trump, gradually becoming the in-house broadcaster for the parallel universe inhabited by the president and the movement he inspired. In the process, they jettisoned not only any pretense to journalistic credibility, but factuality itself.
OANN has been energetic throughout Trump’s presidency in pushing any narrative that might favor his interests, including numerous baseless conspiracy theories. They gave credence to every signature Trumpist falsehood: that George Soros both funded a so-called refugee “caravan” and collaborated with Nazis as a teenager; that there was no chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, in 2018; that Parkland mass shooting survivor David Hogg had been “coached” for his media appearances by his father, a former FBI agent.
The network has also ceaselessly spread disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2019, OANN White House correspondent Chanel Rion fronted a special broadcast in which she asserted that the virus had been deliberately synthesized as a bioweapon in a North Carolina laboratory. She relied on a source whom she called a “monitored source amongst a certain set in the DC intelligence community”, but whose public profile mainly consists promulgating wild conspiracy theories on social media.
The next month, Rion and other OANN staff were bounced from the White House Correspondents Association; she lost her seat in briefings after she refused to follow social distancing guidelines.
By May, Kristian Rouz – who was then working for OANN and the Kremlin-owned Sputnik radio news service – ran a package on the network asserting a wholly different conspiracy theory: that the virus was being employed in a “globalist conspiracy” involving George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and the Chinese Communist party to institute global population control.
To the extent that these outlandish falsehoods were taken seriously by the OANN audience, they worked to deflect blame from Trump for the mismanagement of the pandemic.
Not satisfied with merely pandering to the Magaverse, OANN has also opened its doors to its most truth-averse personalities. Since 2018, they have employed Jack Posobiec as a political correspondent and on-air presenter.
Posobiec first achieved a degree of prominence as a key player in spreading the so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, and this year the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch ran a series of articles connecting Posobiec with far-right extremists and white supremacists in the US and abroad. Posobiec interviewed Logan Cook, a prolific creator of pro-Trump memes, under a false name without informing his audience of the pseudonym.
While Trump seeks to magnify its influence, it’s difficult to tell exactly how big OANN’s audience is: audience measurement company Comscore reportedly does not track its audience numbers because OANN’s audience does not meet the “minimum reporting standards” required to be included in the firm’s data, and OANN itself does not subscribe to the industry-standard Nielsen ratings.
But in 2019, Nielsen ran their numbers anyway, and found that they were averaging just 14,000 viewers. In the same period, Fox News had 45 times this amount, with 635,000 viewers.
Earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr was rumored to want to buy OANN. This claim was denied by Robert Herring, but Trump’s election loss has renewed speculation that he may seek an off ramp into a rightwing media venture of his own.