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John Oliver Drags “Business Daddy” AT&T for Allegedly Funding Right-Wing Propaganda Network OAN

John Oliver speaks from his newsdesk during an episode of Last Week Tonight next to a graphic reading "Assume something was lost in communication - AT&T"

A recent report from Reuters revealed that AT&T played a major role in “creating and funding” OAN, a right-wing misinformation network that makes Fox News look downright reputable. While Donald Trump was in office, the “One America News Network” pushed his agenda hard and Trump repaid them by frequently encouraging his supporters to watch them.

Since Trump left office, the network has continued to be an anti-liberal, MAGA-friendly propaganda machine, pushing out COVID-19 misinformation and Mike “My Pillow Guy” Lindell interviews at every turn. And as Reuters discovered, not only do AT&T and OAN had a “lucrative relationship,” but, according to court testimony from OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr, AT&T is the reason OAN exists at all.

“’They told us they wanted a conservative network,’ Herring said during a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters,” reads the report. “’They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.’”

AT&T has denied that it “funds” OAN and also says no “senior” executive (oddly specific!) ever made that suggestion to Herring. It also defended itself by citing an appreciation of “editorial independence.”

On this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tore into the company, which also owns HBO. AT&T recently spun off DirecTV as its own business, which now manages the company’s video properties. This move does not include Oliver’s show, as a separate deal to merge Warner Media and Discovery is currently pending. So for now, AT&T is still Oliver’s “business daddy.”

Oliver says that AT&T insists that DirecTV “respects the editorial independence of the channels it carries, just as AT&T is committed to providing editorial independence for every WarnerMedia show—including this one.”

“That is such a relief! Especially that last part,” Oliver said on his show Sunday. “Because if I may, I’d like to use that generous editorial independence to offer some constructive feedback to AT&T.”

He continued: “Take AT&T’s recent campaign. ‘More for your thing, that’s our thing,’ which is, respectfully, complete gibberish. It sounds like Yoda pitching a penis-enlargement device. It is so nonsensical I have to assume something was lost in communication, which actually would be a much more appropriate slogan for the company. How about ‘AT&T, all the business savvy of Quibi without the courtesy of committing corporate suicide,’ or ‘AT&T, if you run a cable out the back of your headquarters and plug it into T-Mobile’s network while they aren’t looking, that’s legal, right? Asking for a friend.’ Any of those are all yours if you want them!”

“Look, AT&T, I know our relationship is a little awkward, especially since you’re trying to spin this business baby off in your deal with Discovery,” said Oliver, who has frequently criticized his parent company on-air. “But while we are still technically related, let me just say this: You’re a terrible company. You do bad things and you make the world worse. Please don’t bother keeping in touch once the merger’s complete. Although that really should not be a problem. You’re AT&T. It’s not like your messages will go through anyway.”

(image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.