Conservative Cable Network Gets Behind Biden's FCC Nominee

OANN hopes Gigi Sohn will be an ally in fights with cable carriers

Gigi Sohn / Getty Images
November 17, 2021

One of the most right-wing channels on TV is throwing its weight behind a radically progressive Biden nominee who has called conservative news outlets threats to democracy.

One America News Network (OANN) is working behind the scenes to rally conservative support for Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s latest pick to serve on the Federal Communications Commission. Conservative political operative Bradley Blakeman told the Washington Free Beacon that OANN's president personally arranged for him to appear in a pro-Sohn segment on the network and that OANN executives believe Sohn will be an ally in the network’s fight to wrest market share away from Fox News.

The belief is rooted in Sohn's criticism of Fox News. Sohn has questioned whether Fox News should be investigated for being "state-sponsored propaganda with few if any opposing viewpoints." Fox News and OANN compete for many of the same viewers, and former president Donald Trump encouraged his voters to leave Fox News for OANN or right-wing outlet Newsmax.

Sohn has called for the FCC to intervene in disputes between major cable companies and smaller content providers like OANN. In 2018, OANN, Newsmax, and Sohn found themselves fighting on the same side against the more powerful conservative network Sinclair. According to Blakeman, OANN executives believe that, if confirmed, Sohn will support them in "carriage disputes" with carriers like AT&T and Comcast.

OANN president Charles Herring endorsed Sohn in a letter last week, praising her "strong belief and advocacy for diversity in the programming lineup." A source with knowledge of the situation said Herring is meeting with Republican senators on Capitol Hill to advance Sohn's nomination. He also arranged for Blakeman, a former adviser to George W. Bush, to praise Sohn on the air.

In an interview that aired Friday on OANN, Blakeman noted approvingly that Sohn "disagrees with" cancel culture and touted her regulatory credentials.

Blakeman told the Free Beacon that OANN’s endorsement of Sohn has everything to do with business and that Herring personally encouraged him to come on OANN.

"Anytime a business makes a statement, you have to attribute some of that statement, all of that statement sometimes, to selfish business interests," Blakeman said.

But OANN and others insist Sohn would be an ally to conservatives. A friend and adviser to Sohn backing her nomination told the Free Beacon that the support from OANN shows conservatives want someone to stand up to large media outlets. Former Mississippi Republican congressman Chip Pickering is also expected to publicly endorse Sohn, the adviser said. Blakeman said he was not aware of other Republicans expected to come out in support.

A Republican source familiar with the issue called OANN’s belief that Sohn will support the company in its carriage disputes "farcical" and "a hail mary."

Republican senators have criticized Sohn for her criticism of Fox News as "propaganda." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he "will do everything in [his] power" to block her nomination and called her "unqualified" and "a hack." Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), John Thune (R., S.D.), and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) also expressed concern.

Sohn was initially scheduled to appear this week in a confirmation hearing alongside moderate FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, whom Biden nominated for an additional term on the commission. A Senate staffer with knowledge of the nomination process said Republican opposition to Sohn prompted Commerce Committee chairwoman Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) to postpone Sohn’s hearing to December. The friend and adviser to Sohn blamed the Biden administration for taking almost a year to announce the nominations, calling the delay "shameful."

Even as OANN has backed Sohn, groups affiliated with Sohn have blasted conservative media. The day before Herring endorsed Sohn, a nonprofit she founded published a piece titled "Why Cable and Satellite Providers Should Drop One America News Network." The piece called OANN "a peddler of toxic lies."

Blakeman and Sohn worked together on the Sports Fans Coalition, which works to "protect fans from the wave of sports betting legalization." Blakeman met Sohn through former Bill Clinton aide David Goodfriend, whom a former FCC official said has been working behind the scenes to rally conservative support for her nomination.

Sohn and OANN did not respond to requests for comment.