Months after President Biden’s inauguration, One America News Network, a right-wing cable news broadcaster that is available in approximately 35 million households, continued to air segments that cast doubt on the validity of the 2020 presidential election.
“There are still serious doubts about who is actually president,” OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp said in a March 28 report.
This segment was one of a series of similar reports from a channel that has become sort of Trump TV for the post-Trump era, a point of sale whose coverage coincides with the former president’s grievances at a time when he was from Excluding the main social media platforms.
Some of OAN’s reporting was not fully supported by staff. In interviews with 18 current and former OAN newsroom staff, 16 said the broadcaster had broadcast reports they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue.
According to much of the OAN coverage, it is almost as if there was never a transfer of power. The broadcaster did not broadcast live coverage of Mr. Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address. Until April, Donald J. Trump was consistently referred to as “President Trump” and President Biden only as “Joe Biden” or “Biden” in news articles on the OAN website. This practice is not followed by other news organizations including OAN competitor Newsmax, a conservative cable channel and news site.
OAN has also advocated the debunked theory that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were leftist agitators. Towards the end of a March 4 news segment describing the attack as the work of “anti-fascists” and “anti-Trump extremists” and describing the president as “Beijing Biden,” Mr. Sharp said, “History will tell that it was the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who called for this violence. “Research has found no evidence that people who identify with Antifa, a loose collective of anti-fascist activists, were implicated in the Capitol uprising.
Charles Herring, president of Herring Networks, the company that owns OAN, defended the reports that cast doubt on the election. “Based on our research, the November 2020 elections clearly revealed irregularities among voters,” he said. “The real question is to what extent.”
Herring Networks was founded by Mr. Hering’s father, technology entrepreneur Robert Herring, who ran the OAN at the age of 79 with Charles and one other son, Robert Jr. Around 150 employees work for the station at its headquarters in San Diego.
Nielsen does not report viewership statistics for OAN that is not a Nielsen client. (Charles Herring quoted Nielsen’s “high fees”.) In a poll last month, Pew Research reported that 7 percent of Americans, including 14 percent of Republicans, had received political news from the OAN. In contrast, 43 percent of Americans and 62 percent of Republicans received political news from Fox News, according to the poll.
While OAN appeals to a relatively small audience, its coverage reflects the views of Republicans. In a Reuters / Ipsos poll last month, around half of Republicans said the January 6 attack, which killed five people, was largely a nonviolent protest or the work of leftist activists. Six in ten Republicans polled said they believed Mr Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen”.
OAN, which began in 2013, gained attention when it fully aired Mr Trump’s campaign speeches ahead of the 2016 election. In the past few months, it has been courting viewers who may have felt abandoned by Fox News. On election night, it was the first news agency to project Mr. Biden as the winner from Arizona, a major swing state. In an advertisement in mid-November, OAN accused Fox News of “joining the mainstream media in censoring factual reports.”
OAN’s stories “speak to people who want to believe the choice was illegitimate,” said Stephanie L. Edgerly, associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “These are two mutually reinforcing narratives from people who believe it and want to keep fueling the fire of OAN.”
Marty Golingan, who has been the station’s producer since 2016, said OAN has changed in recent years. When he first started, the company focused more on neutral reporting based on reports from The Associated Press or Reuters. He saw it as a scratchy upstart to produce naughty feature films, he said.
It moved to the right during the Trump presidency, Golingan said. And as he watched the coverage of the pro-Trump crowd breaking into the Capitol, he feared that his work might inspire the attack.
He added that he and others at OAN disagreed with much of the broadcaster’s coverage. “The majority of people did not believe that the allegations of electoral fraud are in the air,” Golingan said in an interview, referring to his colleagues.
He remembered seeing a photo of someone in the Capitol holding a flag with the OAN logo on it. “I thought, OK, this is not good,” said Mr. Golingan. “That happens when people listen to us.”
Charles Herring defended OAN’s coverage. “A review process with multiple reviews is in place to ensure reporting is up to the company’s journalistic standards,” he said. “And yes, we’ve had a lot of mistakes, but we’re doing our best to keep them to a minimum and learn from our missteps.”
Mr. Golingan added that Lindsay Oakley, the OAN’s news director, had reprimanded him since Inauguration Day for copying Mr. Biden as “President Biden”. Ms. Oakley did not respond to requests for comment.
“OAN White House staff use the term President Biden and then possibly Mr. Biden,” said Charles Herring. “The term biden or biden administration can also be used.” He declined to respond to a question about the broadcaster’s use of “President Trump” for Mr. Trump.
Allysia Britton, a news producer, said she was one of more than a dozen employees who left OAN after the Capitol uprising. She criticized some of the station’s reports, saying it did not meet journalistic standards.
“Many people have raised concerns,” Ms. Britton said in an interview. “And the thing is, if people talk about anything, you’re going to get in trouble.”
Charles Herring confirmed that about a dozen OAN employees had left in the past few months, saying many of them were not high-level employees.
OAN employees refer to orders in which the older Mr. Herring has a particular interest as “H-stories”, said several current and former employees. The day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr Herring instructed OAN staff in an email audited by the New York Times to “report all things Antifa did yesterday”.
Some “H-Stories” are reported by Kristian Rouz, an OAN correspondent who wrote for Sputnik, a website supported by the Russian government. In a report on the pandemic in May, Rouz said Covid-19 may have started as a “globalist conspiracy to establish comprehensive population control,” ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, billionaires George Soros and Bill Gates, and “The Deep State.”
Ms. Britton, the former OAN producer, recalled checking out a website that Mr. Rouz had quoted in support of some of his reports. “It literally took me to this chat room where it’s only conservatives commenting on each other,” she said.
In an email to staff last month, Ms. Oakley, the news director, warned producers not to ignore or downplay Mr. Rouz’s work. “His stories should be viewed and treated as ‘H-stories’,” she wrote in the email The Times checked. “These stories are often broken up and copied by ME according to Mr. H’s instructions.”
OAN’s online audience is significant with nearly 1.5 million subscribers to the YouTube channel. In one of the most popular videos, with around 1.5 million views since its November 24th launch, Dominion Voting Systems, the voting technology company whose equipment has been used in more than two dozen states over the past year, including several made by Mr. . Trump were won. The video, hosted by OAN White House correspondent Chanel Rion, shows a man saying he infiltrated Dominion and company executives said they would “make sure” Mr. Trump lost.
Dominion has sued Fox News and two of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, on charges of making or promoting defamatory claims. A Dominion attorney who failed to respond to requests for comment said the company was considering further legal action.
Mr Golingan, the producer, said some OAN employees were hoping Dominion would sue the channel. “A lot of people said, ‘This is crazy and if they sue us we might stop posting stories like that,'” he said.
Weeks after Dominion filed its first libel suits, OAN broadcast a two-hour video in which MyPillow executive Mike Lindell presented his case that there had been widespread electoral fraud. YouTube removed the video the day it was posted, saying it violated the platform’s election integrity policy. Last month, Dominion’s “voting machines” were described as “infamous” in an OAN report.
Two of the current and former employees interviewed for this article – Dan Ball, a talk show host, and Neil W. McCabe, a former reporter – said OAN’s coverage was impartial. Mr McCabe, now a writer for The Tennessee Star, said the network gave “a voice to people who just aren’t covered”.
Susan Beachy contributed to the research.