In the wake of Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, conservative news has seen a shift away from Fox News and to smaller, more fringe networks like Newsmax and OAN. While all three were willing to parrot some degrees of Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the election, some conservatives fled Fox News for calling states for Joe Biden on election night and not fully embracing Trump’s rhetoric as the reality of his defeat set in.
Stories about viewers fleeing to OAN in particular surfaced in the months that followed, as the network went full election truther and repeated Trump’s claims over and over again. Even after the Capitol riots, the network has embraced Trump and his perspective long after he’s left office. But according to a New York Times story, even employees at the right-wing news network are far from true believers in the pro-Trump rhetoric they regularly air.
As the story lays out, OAN has gone even further than other Fox News competitors like Newsmax in insisting on the falsehoods Trump has spouted about coronavirus, the election and a variety of other issues. In some ways it’s like Joe Biden never became president: it didn’t broadcast his inauguration, for starters. And as recently as April, for example, they’ve referred to the former president as “President Trump” and not given Biden, the actual president, the same title.
OAN has also promoted the debunked theory that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were left-wing agitators. Toward the end of a March 4 news segment that described the attack as the work of “antifa” and “anti-Trump extremists” — and referred to the president as “Beijing Biden” — Mr. Sharp said, “History will show it was the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who called for this violence.” Investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the Capitol riot.
But despite the number of pro-Trump examples cited in the piece, off the record the story is much different. And at least one person cited evidence of OAN fans at the deadly Capitol riots on January 6 as an indication that the network is causing real harm with its misinformation. Marty Golingan, a producer who’s worked at OAN since 2016, was one of the few people willing to say on the record that people working there don’t believe the stories they tell.
He added that he and others at OAN disagreed with much of the channel’s coverage. “The majority of people did not believe the voter fraud claims being run on the air,” Mr. Golingan said in an interview, referring to his colleagues.
He recalled seeing a photo of someone in the Capitol mob holding a flag emblazoned with the OAN logo. “I was like, OK, that’s not good,” Mr. Golingan said. “That’s what happens when people listen to us.”
OAN’s leadership has defended its broadcasts, of course, but as the disclaimers it needs to put on its wild programming continue to pile up, it’s clear the network and its viewers continue to slip further from reality, and even the people telling the stories know that they’re just that.