John Oliver has accused HBO parent AT&T of being “a terrible company” following Reuters' revelations about the company’s alleged roles in building and supporting controversial far-right media company One America News Network (OAN).
Speaking on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, Oliver said he realizes that his relationship with AT&T “is a little awkward,” especially since AT&T is “trying” to spin off HBO parent WarnerMedia in a deal with Discovery.
But “while we are still technically related, let me just say this: You are a terrible company,” Oliver said. “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 for you — you’re AT&T, and it’s not like your messages will go through anyway.”
OAN is known for unwaveringly reflecting former President Trump’s declarations, including false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
Based on court depositions, Reuters last week reported that the inspiration for OAN’s 2013 launch came from AT&T executives who wanted a conservative network in addition to Fox News to balance several left-wing networks.
“When they said that, I jumped to it and built [such a network],” OAN founder and CEO Robert Herring Sr. testified in 2019.
AT&T has provided “tens of millions” in revenue since then, according to the report, which cites an OAN accountant stating in sworn testimony in 2020 that 90% of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including DirecTV.
The accountant said that OAN’s value “would be zero” without the DirecTV revenue. Herring testified that in 2019, he was offered $250 million for OAN.
If the WarnerMedia/Discovery spinoff deal goes through in 2022, as expected, AT&T will continue to own a 70% stake in the combined entity.
"AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN's success and does not 'fund' OAN," the company said in a Wednesday statement. "When AT&T acquired DirecTV, we refused to carry OAN on that platform, and OAN sued DirecTV as a result. Four years ago, DirecTV reached a commercial carriage agreement with OAN, as it has with hundreds of other channels and as OAN has done with the other TV providers that it carries on its programming... The decision of whether to renew the carriage agreement upon its expiration will be up to DirecTV, which is now a separate company outside of AT&T."
Responding to Oliver’s show’s request for comment for the segment being produced on the OAN matter, AT&T said 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.”
“I’d like to use that generous editorial independence to offer some constructive feedback to AT&T,” Oliver said on-air, before launching into his criticisms.
Oliver also called AT&T’s new slogan — “More for your thing. That’s our thing” — “complete gibberish” that “sounds like Yoda pitching a penis enlargement device.”
As alternative AT&T slogans, Oliver suggested “Assume something was lost in communication”; “All the business savvy of Quibi without the courtesy of committing corporate suicide”; or “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.”