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Trump’s Biggest Propaganda Machine Doesn’t Believe Its Own Lies

“That’s what happens when people listen to us,” one OAN producer remembered thinking while watching the Capitol insurrection unfold.

One America News Network, the right-wing cable channel that rose to prominence by parroting pro-Trump falsehoods in the aftermath of the 2020 election, has for months churned out conspiracy-addled coverage that not even its own newsroom is willing to get behind. 16 out of 18 current and former OAN employees “said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue,” the New York Times reported Sunday, findings that come as the once-fringe outlet continues to undermine the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s presidency by reinforcing the false narrative that widespread voter fraud was at play. While the rival conservative outlet Newsmax and even Fox News—both of which peddled similarly outlandish theories in the post-election period—have at times moved on to other GOP talking points, like culture wars or Biden’s so-called border crisis, OAN this month remains unwilling to recognize the transfer of power, repeatedly referring to former President Donald Trump as “President Trump” but to his successor as just “Joe Biden” or “Biden” in news articles, according to the Times. Marty Golingan, an OAN producer since 2016, claimed he has been admonished by Lindsay Oakley, the channel’s news director, for referring to Biden with his presidential title—though as the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out, house style has decided to use titles for cabinet officials, making for some bizarre news copy:

Dominion Voting Systems—one of two election technology companies suing Fox News and Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for defamation—is said to be considering further legal action against OAN, which has promoted conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines in the same vein as those Dominion alleged damaged its reputation and business in the aforementioned suits. That prospect has reportedly been embraced in corners of the OAN newsroom, with Golingan telling the Times, “A lot of people said, ‘This is insane, and maybe if they sue us, we’ll stop putting stories like this out.’” Just last month, OAN referred to Dominion’s “voting machines” as “notorious.”

Along with the “stolen” election fiction that remains a staple of OAN broadcasts, the network has also maintained that January’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol—an insurrection such fraud claims helped inspire—was the work of left-wing agitators, a falsehood that has been repeatedly debunked by federal authorities. The day after the insurrection, an email from OAN’s executive suite instructed employees to “report all the things Antifa did yesterday,” according to the Times. In February, a Capitol riot suspect said her actions were in part fueled by “false and inflammatory claims” spread by the “right wing media,” and, in the same motion, also stated that she “believed the right media’s assertion that the violence was perpetrated by ‘antifa’ or others.” That narrative remains intact: As of March 6, OAN was still categorizing the pro-Trump attack as the work of “antifa” and “anti-Trump extremists,” the Times reports. “History will show it was the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who called for this violence,” OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp said in the segment.

OAN broadcasts “appeal to people who want to believe that the election was not legitimate,” said Northwestern’s Stephanie Edgerly. “These are two mutually reinforcing narratives of people who want to believe it and continue to get that fire stoked by OAN.” Coverage of the Capitol attack seemingly breathed new life into OAN’s propaganda machine—as well as the discontent among employees charged with disseminating it—as more than a dozen OAN workers quit in the wake of the siege. One of them, news producer Allysia Britton, told the Times that “many people have raised concerns,” but “you will get in trouble” if you “speak up about anything.” Golingan remains at the network, but he, too, disagreed with its coverage and remembered how he felt seeing a member of the Capitol mob sporting a flag with the OAN logo. “I was like, OK, that’s not good,” he told the Times. “That’s what happens when people listen to us.”

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