Robert Herring Sr., CEO and founder of OANN, speaks to protesters through locked gate.
Robert Herring Sr., CEO and founder of OAN, speaks to protesters through locked Bay Ho gate in June 2020. Photo via Eddie McCoven.

Fearing financial ruin, San Diego-based Herring Networks has sued AT&T and DirecTV over plans to drop One America News from national cable channel lineups.

Herring Networks' lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV.
Herring Networks’ lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV. (PDF)

The Trump-friendly far-right outlet claims a broad political conspiracy to “take down Herring and unlawfully destroy its ability to operate in the media business.”

Herring lawyers allege breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law among other things in a 36-page complaint filed March 7 in San Diego Superior Court.

OAN’s owners are represented by the Vedder Price law firm, which also is Herring counsel trying to fend off a $1.6 billion defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems and a similar one by Smartmatic.

The latest suit seeks to “redress the unchecked influence and power that Defendants have wielded in an attempt to unlawfully destroy an independent, family-run business and impede the right of American television viewers to watch the news media channels and programs of their choice,” says OAN, which alleged “wrongdoings [that] are part and parcel of a larger, coordinated, extremely well-financed political scheme.”

The Herring suit denounces AT&T board Chairman William Kennard, called a registered Democrat with deep ties to the party, “having been appointed in 1997 as chairman of the FCC by President Bill Clinton and in 2009 as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union by President Barack Obama.”

Kennard serves as a member of the Executive Board of Directors of Staple Street, the majority owner of Dominion, the suit says.

“Kennard’s role with Staple Street creates a conflict of interest for him in anything having to do with Herring because Dominion, owned largely by Staple Street, currently is suing Herring for $1.6 billion,” the suit notes. “Herring is confident that discovery will further demonstrate that Kennard was directly involved in DirecTV’s decision to non-renew OAN and that Kennard has a personal, political, and financial interest in destruction of OAN that is inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations to AT&T shareholders.”

On Saturday, a spokesman for AT&T told Times of San Diego: “These allegations are completely without merit, particularly as they relate to AT&T and our independent chairman.”

AT&T has not filed a response to the complaint, but a motion hearing is set May 6 before Judge John Meyer. A reason for the hearing wasn’t immediately clear.

In mid-January, Reuters reported that DirecTV, with about 15 million subscribers, is by far OAN’s largest carrier. According to testimony by OAN’s accountant, DirecTV provided 90% of the network’s revenue.

“We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” DirecTV said in a statement.

The Herring suit doesn’t specify a monetary figure, but seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages “in an amount to be determined at trial and in an amount sufficient to have a deterrent effect on Defendants.”

Also sought is restitution, exemplary damages pursuant to Section 3294(a) of the California Civil Code and other costs and fees.

The suit details how media and nonprofit groups called for deplatforming OAN. Besides Reuters, the suit names the NAACP, Media Matters, Greenpeace and even HBO host John Oliver.

Media Matters is depicted in the suit as a “politically left-wing organization founded by a prominent political operative within the Democratic Party, [which] began a public Twitter campaign criticizing OAN and AT&T.”

Last October, NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a public statement accusing AT&T of causing “irreparable damage to our democracy.” That same month, Greenpeace posted an article titled “How AT&T Funds Right Wing Extremism and Six More Scary Things You Need to Know About the Company.”

And British comedian Oliver is quoted as labeling OAN a “ragtag band of fascists.” 

Oliver also said: “The whole selling point for OAN is that they are Fox News with even less shame and even fewer scruples…. OAN’s weird combination of far right-wing talking points and dirt stupid reporting is incredibly dangerous at a time like this.”

On Nov. 8, 2021, 16 liberal groups sent a joint letter to the CEOs of AT&T and DirecTV “to do the right thing and demand that DirecTV take all available means to end its relationship with OANN, so that its customers are no longer forced to subsidize hate and disinformation.”

Herring — whose ties to AT&T were revealed by a blockbuster Reuters series — cites its affiliation and advertising deal with AT&T, which has spun off DirecTV.

“The Affiliation Agreement demonstrates AT&T’s desire for OAN to compete with Fox News Network, providing that OAN’s programming was ‘designed to have broad appeal with special interest to viewers interested in independent and conservative political thought,’” the suit says.

Since the start of the Affiliation Agreement, “OAN has grown substantially, benefiting AT&T, AT&T Services, and DirecTV,” the suit says. “Because of OAN’s success with DirecTV, Herring reasonably expected that the Affiliation Agreement would be renewed and took steps in furtherance of that expectation.”

Herring, founded by Robert Herring Sr. and also led by two sons, said that in exchange for their commitment not to disclose confidential information, “AT&T, AT&T Services and DirecTV received adequate and sufficient consideration, including advertising revenue and other fees collected from Herring relating to carriage of OAN and [sister network] AWE [once called Wealth TV].”

OAN was launched July 4, 2013, with main studios in the Bay Ho area of San Diego. In May 2020, the network saw its $10 million defamation suit against MSNBC star Rachel Maddow dismissed on First Amendment grounds. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling.