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After news broke of telecommunications giant AT&T’s alleged role in creating and sustaining the right-wing disinformation network One America News (OAN), calls for accountability has been swift. Released earlier this week, a special report from Reuters documented the allegations that AT&T not only encouraged the creation of another conservative news network but is its primary source of revenue.
In a brief response to Reuters, an AT&T spokesperson claimed it doesn’t directly finance OAN. While this may be technically true, information uncovered by Reuters affirms the financial benefit to OAN from its relationship with AT&T.
As documented by political journalist Judd Legum, AT&T was among the corporations financially supporting politicians who supported former President Trump’s “Big Lie.” Legum pointed out the network’s running a two-hour special from the MyPillow CEO as an example of the egregious content produced.
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill called out the “complicity of those who know better.”
But Color of Change and Free Press have taken it a step further. Citing AT&T’s pledge to equity, the organizations insist AT&T drop the network because of the overwhelming harm caused by spreading disinformation. OANN has been called a Trump-friendly outlet but has been a significant source of disinformation feeding into the rhetoric of a “stolen” election.
“More media companies nationwide are publicly acknowledging the role they’ve played in inciting hatred and violence, propagating conspiracy theories, and advancing stereotypes and tropes about Black people and other communities of color,” said Free Press Co-Ceo Jessica J. González. Free Press is home to Media 2070, a media reparations project exploring the historic and ongoing harm done by media outlets.
“As our Media 2070 project has made clear, this moment in our history demands a broader reckoning with the ways our media system is structured, and the federal policies and undue corporate influence that have shaped it,” González continued. “It’s time for AT&T to follow suit and make good on its own PR pledge to ‘stand for equity.’ Immediately severing all ties to One America News is a step in the right direction.”
“This is a pattern for AT&T — the corporation has also contributed to political action committees for right-wing politicians who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “No empty words in support of Black lives can save AT&T in the face of these actions — only a full and immediate rejection of further support for racist media platforms and politicians can do so. Facebook is not the only global media corporation that has consistently chosen to do anything for another buck, even if it means supporting white nationalists and sacrificing the safety and security of millions of Americans. AT&T must divest immediately from business models built on racist and dangerous media content.”
A November Forbes article, citing a Bloomberg report, said AT&T paid OAN 15 cents per subscriber a month. Media Matters for America President Angelo Carusoe told Forbes that was high.
AT&T carrying OANN is part of the problem with trying to appease both sides when Democracy is on the line. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty called on AT&T to respond to the report in a separate statement. She explained that AT&T had been a partner with the Black Caucus on several issues. Beatty seemed determined that the organization would not be used as a shield from criticism.
“AT&T’s support of OAN is in direct opposition to its claims of embracing and valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Beatty. “As members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we find these allegations appalling and call on AT&T to respond immediately. We will not yield in our dedication to combating any attempt to circumvent democratic principles, disenfranchise American voters, and marginalize Black communities.”
Back in May, AT&T released a statement expressing support for racial justice reforms, including the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act.
“We at AT&T stand firm for equality and remain committed to doing our part to advance racial equity and justice for all,” read the statement in part. “Since the 1960s, our company has been at the forefront of civil rights advocacy and the fight for equality. And today, we continue to work with civil rights organizations, law enforcement, elected officials and businesses on the local, state and federal levels to address injustices.”