Sen. Mike Lee says he is worried about the future of journalism in America. That’s why he’s very concerned about AT&T’s decision to boot far-right channel One America News Network off its lineup and wants to know if the move was the result of a partisan decision.
AT&T’s decision comes after AT&T subsidiary DirecTV decided not to renew its contract with the ultraconservative OAN earlier this year. The network alleges the move was part of a “political scheme” to put the channel out of business. Reuters reported 90% of OAN’s operating revenue comes from DirecTV.
Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sent a letter to the AT&T Board of Directors expressing “grave concern” about the state of the media and political discourse in America, demanding to know if politics played a role in ending the contract with OAN, according to a tweet from Ron Filipkowski.
Lee and Cruz’s letter echoes claims put forward in OAN’s lawsuit. The legal action alleges DirectTV has a conflict of interest because William E. Kennard, who is the chairman of the AT&T Board of Directors, serves on the executive board at Staple Street Capital, which owns a stake in Dominion Voting Systems. The voting systems company is suing the OAN for $1.6 billion for spreading false claims about their machines rigging the election in favor of President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
The suit claims Kennard used those positions to financially cripple OAN so the network could not effectively respond to the Dominion lawsuit.
“These facts raise serious questions about the role of political influence in DirectTV’s programming decisions, as well as whether AT&T’s chairman has allowed personal financial considerations to influence his oversight of a company in which AT&T holds a majority share,” the letter reads.
AT&T created OAN in 2013 after executives wanted a conservative television network to rival Fox News, according to a Reuters investigation. The revelation that the telecommunications giant poured millions of dollars into the little-watched network caused a massive public backlash. OAN’s lawsuit says more than a dozen organizations condemned AT&T’s role in the channel’s genesis.
Lee and Cruz requested the company respond within 10 business days. Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Former President Donald Trump lashed out publicly at Time Warner for dropping the little-watched network. In 2019, Nielsen Media Research estimated the channel’s viewership at approximately 14,000 people.
OAN has a history of amplifying misinformation and conspiracy theories. In addition to the persistent claims about a stolen election, the network promoted false claims about COVID-19. YouTube permanently suspended OANN’s channel in 2020 for violating the website’s COVID-19 misinformation policy.
The network recently accused President Joe Biden of a “false flag” attack on a maternity hospital in Ukraine to distract from domestic problems at home. The hospital in Mariupol was bombed by invading Russian forces.