When liberals look at Fox News, they tend to see Trump TV: a cable network that, with a few exceptions, has relentlessly pushed his policy objectives, and praised him in the terms that he loves. But that is not the way Donald Trump himself sees it. Trump loves that many Fox hosts are his loudest cheerleaders—but any deviation from Trumpian orthodoxy he views as betrayal. He sees himself as responsible for the network’s continued ratings success, and expects to be treated as such. In private, Trump reminds friends that Fox tried to derail his campaign during the 2016 Republican primary, and he vents that Fox owes its record ratings to him. “At the end of day, Trump thinks he owns Fox. He thinks he made them,” said a Republican who discussed Fox with Trump.
Trump’s frustration with Fox has only intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. As the nation’s COVID-19 death count rises, and Trump’s poll numbers slide, Fox executives have sidelined the network’s most flagrant coronavirus deniers. In late April Fox cut ties with MAGA stars Diamond and Silk after the duo promoted bizarre COVID-19 conspiracies, including speculation that the virus was man-made or that New York state was inflating deaths totals to hurt Trump politically.
Trump’s view that Fox is insufficiently loyal has motivated him to look for a more reliable media partner. On April 26, he tweeted: “The people who are watching @FoxNews, in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!”
Trump now is on the verge of having that alternative. According to sources, an investor group aligned with his son Don Jr. and the Dallas-based Hicks family has acquired a major stake in One America News Network, the fledgling conservative cable-news channel that features hosts like Jack Posobiec, a chief promoter of the Pizzagate conspiracy. “[RNC co-chair] Tommy Hicks and Don Jr. have been looking to buy a station for Trump TV,” said one source briefed on the talks. “This is all about building a Fox competitor. Trump is really aiming to take down Fox,” the person briefed on the deal told me. (A person close to Hicks said he resigned his position from the family business when he joined the RNC and isn’t involved in the OANN deal).
During impeachment, OANN distinguished itself by its brazen airing of pro-Trump propaganda. OANN ran a three-part series hosted by Rudy Giuliani promoting Trump’s conspiracy that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 election. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo—the current spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services—hosted a prime-time special titled: The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, Mass Murder.
Sources said the deal has been dragging on for months, and hasn’t yet closed. In January the Wall Street Journal reported that Hicks Equity Partners was in talks to invest $250 million to acquire OANN from parent company Herring Networks Inc. Sources told me OANN president Charles Herring was asking $300 million for the channel, a price the Trump group felt was too high (one source said the final price was around $200 million). It’s unclear whether Don Jr. invested Trump family funds in the deal or was given equity. The infusion of cash will allow OANN to improve production values and expand its modest distribution of 35 million homes (Fox News is available in more than 90 million homes).
“While Don has long enjoyed a close friendship with Tommy Hicks and his family, he is not part of any investment group looking to acquire OANN,” a spokesperson for Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement. “Should the Hicks family acquire the network, Don has no doubt that they will make OANN an even bigger success.”