How One America News sells an altered reality to voters who dream of wealth

OAN's calm misinformation campaign sells Trump as a rich, brave hero under siege to viewers aspiring to be like him

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published October 5, 2019 3:30PM (EDT)

One American News (One American News Network)
One American News (One American News Network)

As the impeachment inquiry accelerates, people are shuffling through historical accounts of other presidential impeachment cases, including the scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon before official proceedings would have taken him down.

Some poor self-abusive souls claim to be doing this for the sake of learning. Others are searching for any precedent that might hint at how the inquiry against Donald Trump could end. But history has no clear way of predicting that, owing to one highly potent factor that was not present in 1998 or in 1974: the right-wing media apparatus.

We know this, or maybe we think we do. This site and many others spend a lot of time reporting on incendiary, misleading, and racist statements made by Fox News' unholy triumvirate of prime-time cable news hosts. The right-wing media machine is also fueled by partisan podcasts and talk radio, Breitbart, Infowars, and Drudge, but it's Fox News that dominates the 24-hour cycle.

Fox News isn't entirely in Trump's pocket, however — and for the MAGA faithful, that's a problem. Fox News may be home to Sean Hannity (hero!) but it also employs news anchor Shepard Smith (boo!). For every soothing squawk emitted by Judge Janine Pirro, there's a counter-bray from Judge Andrew Napolitano stating that Trump engaged in "both criminal and impeachable behavior" in his famous phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Fox got rid of its "fair and balanced" hypno-motto some time ago, but it has maintained just enough whiff of "both-sideism" to allow your intolerant confirmed bachelor uncle to crow about its legitimacy.

Spend enough time treading water in the churning toilet that is Twitter though, and eventually you will come across mentions of One America News Network, the more righteously right-than-Fox news choice for the people who find Fox too liberal to take these days.

Trump loves OAN. In his view, OAN is purely about real news, another way of saying positive news about him. Its 24-hour feed is accessible online or via subscription on that highly reputable, and unbiased platform known as Facebook. In addition to gorging on OAN on Facebook, subscribers can also receive its feed on Roku or on KlowdTV which, like OAN, is owned by 77-year-old Robert Herring Sr., who made his millions in printing circuit boards. Profiles of the network published in The Washington Post and The Daily Beast indicate that Herring determines the content and the angle of the stories the network covers.

And if Trump is a fan of OAN, Herring is even a bigger and more devoted fan of Trump's.

OAN has been around since 2013, but it didn't truly find its reason for being until the channel's lord and master Donald Trump took office in 2016.  Since then, OAN has been the main outlet for the Trump congregants who are refusing to buy the fake news the rest of the lamestream media is peddling.

And although Fox is dutifully reporting the impeachment inquiry by hammering away at the supposed corruption of Trump's Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, OAN prefers to skip that unnecessary foreplay and leap straight to the headlines we want, like Friday's "'Ukraine Files' Exonerate President Trump'."

According to the company's own estimates, the San Diego-based news outfit is available in some 35 million households via cable and IPTV platforms. It is not carried by Comcast, the corporate owner of NBC Universal and the overlords of Rachel Maddow, whose assertion on a recent episode of "The Rachel Maddow Show" that OAN "really, literally is paid Russian propaganda," resulted in the Herrings slapping Maddow, Comcast and NBC Universal with a lawsuit seeking damages in excess of $10 million.

While Comcast won't carry OAN, CenturyLink, Verizon's Fios TV, Frontier Communications, and AT&T's U-verse do. It also has a berth on satellite provider DirecTV, which is how I first stumbled upon its half-hour nightly newscast.

DirecTV carries these limited telecasts of OAN on the Herring-owned channel AWE, short for A Wealth of Entertainment (formerly known as Wealth TV), which has been around since 2004. One can't observe OAN apart from AWE, since the channel itself is a 24-hour tribute to the consumption patterns of the hyper-wealthy. Shows like "Selling Mega-Mansions," "Selling Yachts," and "Private Island" reveal HGTV programming to be shack porn for the poors.

They also hold a mirror up to the ideal OAN viewer: portly old white guys and their trophy wives. For proof of this, look no further than the AWE interstitials, such as a memorable one featuring a surgically enhanced woman with a Mona Lisa grin plastered across her face, mindlessly strolling down a beach. Why? For what reason? Who knows. And those same questions pop up again and again while watching what passes for news on OAN, but often involves conspiracy theory.

AWE depicts wealth and materialism as aspirational and the true marker of Americanness. Once a person understands this, she may understand why OAN is riding first class on the Trump train, and why the AWE viewer would readily accept a program purported to be a newscast that has all the production value of a college newscast on community cable access.

Given the craziness of this week's headlines, I decided to try an experiment: what would my view of the world be like if I consumed One America News Network's half-hour broadcast as my primary news source this week?

This was not a pure experiment, mind you, considering that I work for a news website. Even if I avoid looking at the site itself, I can't help but come across a few headlines on stories written by my fellow Salon pinko socialists, one of whom I suspect is a worshipper of Moloch.

But as much as possible, I limited myself to informing myself about what's going on in the world by way of OAN's 30-minute evening and morning breakdowns. And I must admit, after only a few telecasts, my outlook on where this is all going – this being the young experiment that is America, has changed vastly.

For one thing, and this may surprise you, but everything the Democrats are doing in the effort to impeach Trump is meant to cover up their own corruption. I mean, they may talk a lot of mess about what the framers of the Constitution intended, but what smart people know is that the Constitution is only useful to people who want to protect their guns and limit the rights of women and minorities – or as AWE tacitly portrays those demographics, servants and lower paid servants, with exceptions granted for celebrities of color hawking joint cream and financial products for retirees.

Another aspect of OAN's coverage that one might notice and celebrate is that much of the sourcing for its angles comes from Twitter, and mainly Trump's feed. This because OAN is even more invested than Fox News is in making sure we understand Trump's heroic anti-corruption effort in trying to expose former vice president Joe Biden and Hunter Biden's mysterious hijinks in Ukraine.

Take Emerald Robinson's reporting from the White House, but actually from Twitter, that Trump thinks Democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California,  is "a stone cold liar." Robinson cites Schiff's claim on MSNBC that neither he nor his staff had spoken directly to the whistleblower, but goes on to cite the New York Times Wednesday story that indicated Schiff actually had early contact with the whistleblower.

Now – I didn't read the failing New York Times' account because fake news, amirite? I mean, maybe the whistleblower had a good reason for going to Schiff's aides? And maybe Schiff had a reason for keeping mum about it on MSNBC? In any case, boom goes the dynamite, he lied, and this after supposedly changing the text of the transcript supposedly as he was reading from it.

"It is the President, however, who is coming under fire for his statements immediately following the breaking news on Wednesday during a press conference – some in the media accusing the president of lying when he said Schiff probably helped write the complaint… 'probably' being the operative word that is being left out or ignored in some cases in the coverage," Robinson says, in a tone that let you know that matters, not the thought that he's making that up.

Thursday's telecast also covered Arizona representative Andy Biggs' intent to file a motion to censure Schiff, as well as the continuing adventures of, in the words of an OAN correspondent Neil W. McCabe, "international icon" Rudy Giuliani, as he announces he is considering a massive lawsuit against Schiff and the United States Congress.

Another report from Jack Posobiec (a right wing troll in any other forum, but a rock solid reporter here), warns of an effort to revive investigations into Russian collusion. Which is not only trustworthy and I'm sure contextually accurate, but also completely germane to the whole impeachment business. Because when in doubt, haul in the Obamas and the Clintons.

In yet another moment that's part of OAN's regional news coverage, we see archive footage from the aftermath of a California synagogue shooting in close proximity to poll (conducted by whom, they did not say – but whatevs!) results that voters in California are turning on Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom and the Democratic legislature.

The stat from a survey (again, which?) of likely voters shows a 44 percent disapproval rating for Democrats. To back this up, the producers play a clip of Trump talking about how filthy California is.  Similarly, Tuesday night coverage of Bayou Steel Mill in Louisiana was careful to include an interview with one of its workers that made it clear, "this wasn't about the tariffs…the tariffs helped us."

How was this man in a position to know this for certain? That was left a mystery. He didn't look like he worked in corporate, or like a liaison to the local labor industry.

Another source, Gov. John Bel Edwards, said "While Bayou Steel has not given any specific reason for the closure, we know that this company, which uses recycled scrap metal that is largely imported, is particularly vulnerable to tariffs…Louisiana is among the most dependent states on tariffed metals, which is why we continue to be hopeful for a speedy resolution to the uncertainty of the future of tariffs."

Edwards is a Democrat, which is probably why this quote appeared in a story by MarketWatch, not One America News.

On OAN, nothing that the President is doing is an abuse of his office or its powers. Rather, his pleas for foreign governments to investigate his competition for the 2020 presidency is just a very transparent effort to expose liars. Just like Trump's Florida visit was touted as a win for healthcare, as the anchor repeats White House talking points that the president will always work to protect the healthcare of Americans.

OAN interrupted one of its Thursday telecasts to broadcast Vice President Mike Pence's goodwill appearance at the Hispanic Leaders Roundtable Discussion in full, where he touted all of the administration's accomplishments. It showed everything but the parts of the visit where reporters swooped in to ask Pence questions about his boss' on-camera solicitation of foreign interference earlier that day.

In fact, while the rest of the media reported that Wednesday's press conference showed Trump as totally off his nut, OAN told the truth — that Trump was firmly standing up to media efforts to discredit his presidency.

To that end, it's been a really banner time for Trump on OAN. In prior weeks, when no major democracy-changing news was breaking, the channel's anchors summarized the gist of his spilled word salads over silent footage of him talking. But this week, the newscasts find the cleanest soundbites to make Trump sound "perfect." Meanwhile, now it is his opposition that is almost always shown with the sound off. Unless, that is, the audio the producers feature portrays said detractors in a negative light.

As for Maddow's opinion, we can see where she might be mistaken about this network whose owners, according to their attorney Skip Miller, are "as American as apple pie." The reporter she refers to, Kristian Brunovich Rouz, may have been born in Siberia but currently lives in San Diego.

According to a report in The Daily Beast, he also is on the payroll of the Kremlin-owned Sputnik, even though OAN identifies him as its own reporter. Anyway, this week he turned in a lengthy report on the Bidens allegedly corrupt dealings in the Ukraine, and since I didn't examine what other sources had to say about the topic, I'm sure it contains no holes or baseless conspiracy theories at all.

So what did we learn? One, it's really great to be rich. And it's even better to be rich with zero sense of consequence or thought about the global consequences of supporting a despot regardless of his actions. And this is the demographic OAN and AWE cater to: rich white guys and white guys who want to be rich white guys and people who really want to be taken care of by rich white guys who own, buy, and sell yachts.

And for those guys who really want to be like the President, the Twitter feed is even better, including such totally-not-insane headlines as "NASA: Climate changes due to shifts in solar orbit, not human activity." Click through to the story itself and you'll see…oops, a 404 error. Surely that has nothing to do with NASA's official research about what is causing climate change (spoiler alert: the sun is totally exonerated; man is not). But I mean, do you want to believe what NASA says, or what One America News says that NASA says?

Earlier this week, CNN's Oliver Darcy made an important observation in the Reliable Sources newsletter – that the right-wing media machine has effectively made it impossible for the Republican party to directly access its own voters. He writes, "Make no mistake: If Trump survives the deepening scandal he now finds himself in, it will be because of Fox and the rest of the pro-Trump media machine muddying the waters and poisoning the public conversation."

OAN isn't your ordinary poison, though. It's a mind-altering drug meant to placate Americans who worship wealth but don't necessarily have it, who hold faith that those who do will somehow see fit to share it. There isn't much heated conflict or hyperbolic name-calling on OAN aside from what the President serves up in news conferences.  In its place is a lot of calmly presented misinformation, misdirection, and unfounded theory.

Because believe me – actual wealthy people who are reliant on facts about what's going on in the world aren't watching this network or its news…unless they hold elected office. In that case, as Darcy points out, they have to be aware of how outlets are skewing coverage to make sure they're not stepping out of line.

The goal is to stay off of OAN, it seems – unless you're international icon Rudy Giuliani.

But if you're an OAN viewer you probably aren't as angry or worried about what's going on in the world. Trump has this America business well in hand, so let's all hang in there and wait for the solar orbit to adjust and this climate change lunacy to calm down.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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