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Two Bad Headlines for AT&T and a Conundrum for the Dallas Morning News

Reuters reports that the Dallas telecom company helped create and fund a network known in large part for promoting falsehoods about COVID-19.
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Here are two rough headlines for Dallas-based AT&T, published in the last 24 hours:

Let’s take them in order. Reuters reports that AT&T executives not only funded, but helped create the One America News network:

OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr. has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives.

“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters. “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.”

Politics aside, if I were a conservative network, I’d hate to be lumped in with whatever OAN is. The “conservative network” has distinguished itself in the last couple of years largely as a major promoter of wildly false information about COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election.

According to Reuters, the network’s multimillion-dollar contracts with AT&T television platforms like DirecTV are making OAN’s bogus claims possible.

“We have always sought to provide a wide variety of content and programming that would be of interest to customers, and do not dictate or control programming on channels we carry,” an AT&T spokesman told Reuters. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

That’s the deal with Headline No. 1.

Now, Headline No. 2: “Dallas Morning News rejects ad hammering AT&T for backing sponsors of Texas abortion bill, Democratic super PAC says.

AT&T has already caught a certain amount of heat from liberals as the top corporate donor to lawmakers behind the state’s effective ban on abortions after six weeks. Companies don’t like it when their political donations are in the news. To paraphrase Michael Jordan, both Democrats and Republicans buy sneakers. Or cable TV packages. Whatever.

But the rest of the CNBC story is maybe more of a headache for the Dallas Morning News, which declined to run a Democratic super PAC’s ad blasting AT&T for said donations. CNBC reports:

The ad was supposed to run on the paper’s website Tuesday. The newspaper said it had a policy against ads that call out companies by name, according to American Bridge, which paid for the ad. American Bridge said it submitted the spot to the newspaper last week.

“The Dallas Morning News reserves the right to edit or reject any advertising for any reason,” DMN publisher Grant Moise told CNBC. “We have been particularly cautious when advertising content assumes the intentions of another business. Our decision was based solely on our policy, not on any outside influences.”

The conundrum for the DMN mentioned in the headline here (let’s call it Headline No. 3) is how or whether the paper’s newsroom decides to report on the stories covered by Headline No. 1 and Headline No. 2. That’s Conundrum No. 1. If there’s a Conundrum No. 2, or maybe a Conundrum 1B, it’s whether, in our vitriolic and increasingly atomized political culture, the paper bends itself into pretzels to try and avoid pissing off the following:

  • AT&T
  • Liberal subscribers
  • Conservative subscribers
  • Advertisers

My guess is that somebody will be pissed, regardless.

As for AT&T, the company could be having a worse week in the news. It could be Facebook.

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