One America News, or OAN, or OANN—whichever you like, it’s all the same thing—is Donald Trump’s favorite cable-news channel. Mostly this is because One America News seems to agree with Trump about everything, in the same way a dog agrees to chase its own tail. Every day, Trump does something that catches OAN’s attention, and it’s off to the races. He’s part ringleader, part muse. If you’re wondering just how deep the fealty goes, consider this actual headline that ran on oann.com at the end of March, when Trump was still in his denial phase about the coronavirus: “President Handling Emergency Well in First Term.” So well, in fact, we should just give him that second term right now, wouldn’t you say? Every so often, Trump and Fox News have a lover’s spat, and this is when he really turns on the charm toward OAN—retweeting its praise of him, calling on its correspondents at press briefings two days in a row. Or, to put the relationship in tabloid terms familiar to Trump: He treats OAN like his sidepiece, and Fox News like a future ex-wife.
One America News predates the Trump presidency—it launched in 2013—so its rise is less a response to Trumpism than an extension of the besieged, paranoid worldview that got him elected in the first place. In 2018, well after the debunking of Pizzagate—the allegation that Hillary Clinton and a secret cabal were running a pedophile ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant—the network hired one of Pizzagate’s chief boosters, Jack Posobiec, as an on-air correspondent. (Posobiec has backed down from the Pizzagate theory, telling The Washington Post in 2016 that he thought his live-streamed look into the pizzeria “could just show it was a regular pizza place.”) OAN covered the so-called migrant caravan—a slow-moving wave of migrants that began rolling north from Central America in 2018—as if it were a Category 5 hurricane. OAN has referred to the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee, as if it might have been a political assassination; tin-foil-hat corners of the internet have connected it to the leaking of DNC emails. Recently, OAN has been advancing the theory, without any evidence to support it, that the coronavirus was developed in a Chinese bioweapons lab, and spread from there. Soon enough, The New York Times reported that administration officials were pushing the intelligence services to investigate, even as the theory was debunked on the front page.
“Our big secret and a key differentiator of OAN from other cable news networks is that the star of OAN’s news lineup is the news, not the talent,” Charles Herring, the network’s president, told me by email recently. Now on the one hand, ouch—on-air talent likes nothing more than hearing their boss say they weren’t chosen for their talent. On the other hand, he’s right: At OAN, what comes out of their mouths is far more important than how well they say it. To watch OAN is to experience the Trump presidency the way Trump himself would cover it, if he built a network from the ground up and then, as he did with his administration, hired amateurs to run it. I spent hours watching OAN, and the whole time I found myself yearning for the skill and professionalism of Fox News. In the age of alternative facts, though, a news network doesn’t need polish to be dangerous. All the talent needs to do is look into the camera and read off the teleprompter.
Trump’s frequent shout-outs have turned OAN into a minor media sensation, and its coverage has been described as “fast paced,” which is only true if you’re comparing it with the burning-Yule-log channel. As I watched One America, it gradually dawned on me that I was watching Anchorman. Everything was so earnest and slapdash, and so transparently inane. In both appearance and metabolism, OAN is a nostalgia machine—familiar, reassuring, the Turner Classic Movies of cable-news networks. It’s built for the members of an aging #MAGA army who want to be comforted by news the way they remember it. The same good news, the same bad news. The same invisible enemies too, so that even the nightmares come wrapped in a warm blanket. Gang violence at the top of the hour, baby pandas at the bottom. OAN is post-parody: It’s the straight truth for Trump fans, and completely surreal for everyone else.
OAN was born on the Fourth of July seven years ago, when Trump was already deep into his birtherism phase. The network is headquartered in an office-park cul-de-sac in San Diego, a city that, in addition to being the setting for Anchorman, is the longtime corporate base of One America’s founder, the microchip multimillionaire and aging paterfamilias Robert Herring, Charles’s father. Robert built his fortune as a manufacturer of circuit boards, cashing out of two companies in 2000 with $122 million. He and Charles broke into television in 2004 with WealthTV, now known as AWE (A Wealth of Entertainment), a cable channel that would feature shows such as Cheese Chasers and Dream Cruises. Robert also started giving money to conservative causes. In 2005, he made news when he offered $1 million to the husband of Terri Schiavo—a young woman who spent years in a vegetative state as her husband and parents fought in court over whether to end her life—if he agreed to keep her on life support. (He declined the offer.) When Robert and his son decided that Fox News had gotten too soft, too centrist, they launched One America to compete with it.
Robert Herring does not poke his head out much, granting only the occasional brief interview to his local San Diego Union-Tribune. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, though, he has been tweeting about it regularly. On April 20, he posted about hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug that Trump has touted as a cure for COVID-19—and now claims to have taken himself—despite the lack of evidence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for the coronavirus and the emerging evidence that it may cause harm:
President Trump was the first to tell us about hydroxychloroquine. Now there are MANY reports of people taking it and being 1