Whether Republicans like it or not, companies aren't obliged to spread lies
The right-wing cable channel One America News Network is among the worst purveyors of disinformation today, spewing a steady stream of lies regarding the pandemic, election integrity and other issues. But OAN’s pipeline for its toxic product just got narrower. DirecTV’s recent announcement that it will soon stop carrying the channel has riled some congressional Republicans, but in fact it’s solidly grounded in a principle that conservatives claim to cherish: Let the market decide.
One America News was founded in 2013 as an even further-right platform than Fox News. It rose to national prominence in conservative circles as a staunch Donald Trump backer. Where Fox frequently flirts around the edges of the disinformation sewer on issues like the pandemic and the 2020 election, OAN dives right in.
Its anchors and reporters have outright stated that coronavirus vaccines are causing massive death (they aren’t), that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the capital was a “false flag” operation organized by “leftists” (it wasn’t), and, of course, that Trump actually won the 2020 election (he didn’t). The network is currently facing nine-figure defamation lawsuits from two election technology companies it slandered with outrageous conspiracy theories about the election.
OANN goes out to America via several carriers, but DirecTV is by far its most important. A Reuters report last year revealed that 90% of OANN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T through its subsidiary media platforms, primarily DirecTV. (AT&T owned DirecTV before spinning it off into a separate company last year and still holds a majority stake.)
DirecTV announced without fanfare that it won’t renew its contract with One America News when it expires later this year. The carrier said only that it made the decision after “a routine internal review.”
As a private business, it’s not obligated to say even that much — neither OANN nor any other enterprise has some God-given right to a distribution contract regardless of its behavior. But some Republicans in Congress are acting as if this perfectly valid business decision is a personal affront. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is canceling his DirecTV account, tweeting, “Why give money to people who hate us?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called it part of “the Left’s purge.”
Complaints and boycotts are a legitimate (if snowflake-y) reaction from lawmakers. But Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., arguably abused his authority with a letter ominously telling DirecTV CEO Bill Morrow that there “has not been sufficient justification” for the decision, and calling it “unacceptable.”
What’s unacceptable is that a political party which once prided itself on a hands-off approach to free enterprise now ditches that principle any time a social media platform or carrier makes the responsible decision to refrain from spreading Trumpian lies. Those lies are bad for the country. It’s encouraging to see that corporate America — at least some of it — recognizes that they’re bad for business as well.
— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).