“We’re a no-fluff, very fast-paced live news service meant to inform,” said Charles Herring, Robert’s son and president of Herring Broadcasting, which owns One America. “News anchors are not allowed to express opinions. They simply deliver the news and we leave it up to the viewers to decide. It’s not our family’s mission to determine the news.”
Nonetheless, Robert Herring has repeatedly shaped the news on OAN. During the campaign, for example, he banned stories about polls that showed anyone other than Trump in the lead, according to emails and interviews with OAN journalists.
.. Early one morning in March 2016, Herring emailed producers with a directive, two hours before former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to denounce Trump as “very, very not smart”: “Do not carry the Romney speech live,” Herring wrote. “Romney has no standing. . . . He is a loser. We will let the people decide.”
.. “The owner of the company became the de facto news director,” said a former OAN producer who quit because the coverage of Trump had become “too slanted.” “He has a ton of influence over every aspect of the newscast. He has stories written on his whim.”
.. “We started out with the premise of news straight down the middle,” said Cassie Leuffen, an anchor at OAN from its birth through the 2016 election. “But the bias does reveal itself in the story selection. The owner really felt this was what was needed. He saw the popularity of Trump before almost anybody, and Trump became our bread and butter.”
.. “We looked at MSNBC and Fox and I kept thinking that Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly had the same format — one person spending an hour beating three or four subjects to death. CNN was moving in the same direction, away from hard news. There was a lane for us to hit the news down the center and lean right.”
.. Robert Herring’s idea was to provide something that had gone missing from the cable news landscape — a basic headline service covering national and international news.
.. The channel he created is a rapid-fire cavalcade of headlines. Most stories run well under a minute. Almost all of the reports are read by the anchors over video footage provided by the Reuters, Associated Press and Euronews services, as well as by RT, the Kremlin-funded news outlet that a U.S. intelligence report calls “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”
OAN has only four correspondents of its own, based mainly in Washington. Earlier this month, in 16 consecutive stories, those reporters interviewed only conservative lawmakers and experts — a sharp contrast from Fox and MSNBC, which, despite their overt political leanings, routinely include the other side in their reports.
.. OAN breaks its cycle of half-hour newscasts only for two hours of evening opinion shows — The Daily Ledger with Graham Ledger and Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler — both of which are guns-blazing nightly tributes to Trump. Ledger is a tough guy who takes no prisoners. Talking about people coming into the country from majority-Muslim countries, he says, “If they won’t take a bite out of a pulled pork sandwich, we probably won’t let them in the country.” Wheeler leans more on clever snark and verbal eyerolls: “How many innocent people have Islamophobes killed this week? Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
.. Charles Herring said the shows are the only part of OAN that “leans right,” a direction he said is based not on his family’s political views, but on “survey data.”
.. OAN was an exciting, attractive place for budding journalists right out of college. Here, they could skip the traditional first step of toiling in the hinterlands and move directly into work on big national stories.
.. In the channel’s first couple of years, OAN writers, producers and anchors said they were mostly left alone to determine the content of the newscasts. After Trump announced his candidacy, things changed.
“We should ALWAYS take the trump speeches live in their entirety,” executive producer Lindsay Oakley wrote to her staff early in the campaign. “I don’t want producers’ personal feelings getting in the way of the news content we provide. Trump is being treated unfairly by the mainstream media and we need to provide the other side. . . . Not to mention we have loyal viewers that tune in specifically to see the Trump speeches live because no one else carries them. We also see some of our highest ratings during the Trump speeches.”
.. OAN employees recounted receiving reprimands signed by Robert Herring or being called into his office to be dressed down for “insubordination” when they ran stories he disapproved of.
“Please please please avoid ferguson stories!!!” Oakley wrote after OAN aired a report on Ferguson, Mo.’s battle with the Justice Department over reforms to the city’s police and court systems following an officer’s shooting of an unarmed black man. A story that aired three times on the channel “made police look bad and Mr. H. has told all of us not to do that. Please just avoid ferguson stories all together.”
.. Herring ordered that OAN minimize coverage of Pope Francis’s U.S. visit in 2015 because the pope had urged comprehensive action against climate change.
.. Producers said Herring repeatedly urged against running stories critical of Russia. (Herring’s online streaming company, KlowdTV, features a package offering just Herring’s own channels and RT. Another package adds Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Newsmax.)
.. OAN airs few commercials; the Herrings are skeptical of advertising as a prime revenue source, relying instead on subscriber fees that cable systems pay content providers for their programming.
.. “Obviously, they’re not in it for the money, because they’re bleeding money,” said Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and TV station owner, who gave the Herrings advice as they were launching OAN. “They’re believers; they care about balancing the media. I saw them as good guys, a little green, without a full idea of what this was going to cost. It’s amazing they’re still up and running.”
Wood, one of the channel’s first writers, said OAN is Robert Herring’s “way to hobnob with political figures and maybe have some political influence. This is one man’s hobby.”