The 2020 presidential election? That was rigged, according to the fake news outlet to end all fake news outlets. The elderly protester who was knocked down and bloodied by Brooklyn police during a George Floyd protest? He was an antifa plant trying to disrupt legitimate police business. Chemical attacks by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's regime on his own citizenry? Couldn't have happened — everyone loves him.
Since its founding in 2013, the network commonly known as One America News (OAN) has maintained a presence in Washington, D.C., San Diego, and New York City. Now the network is looking to establish a beachhead in Florida. On its website, the company says it is hiring a political correspondent and videographer to report from Tallahassee.
The hiring effort comes at an interesting time for Republican Party politics. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump disciple, is up for re-election in 2022 and has entered the national spotlight as a potential frontrunner for the 2024 presidential election. Despite criticism of DeSantis' response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his resistance to mask mandates and shutdowns, he has declared himself victorious in the fight and has legions of supporters who agree.
New network in the @FLPressCorps ?@OANN hiring a political correspondent in Tallahassee. @GovRonDeSantis and his political future getting more attention in Florida’s Capitol. pic.twitter.com/KoeoLhigWZ— Jossie B (@jossiebarroso) June 8, 2021
When it comes to his relationship with news reporters, DeSantis has ripped pages straight out of Trump's playbook. The governor has made a habit of calling press conferences and leaving without taking questions. He once blocked the Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau chief from a COVID press briefing. Most recently, he cemented his status as a conservative media darling by giving an exclusive to Fox News when he signed a bill that curbed vote-by-mail and then signed a bill banning transgender female athletes from competition on the first day of Pride Month.
OAN has called DeSantis a "beacon" for the Republican Party, but political insiders wonder how its presence in Tallahassee will affect the Florida press corps.
"DeSantis has been trying to run this alternative national government out of the governor's mansion," says Nate Monroe, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. "He really is running this shadow White House. And no Trumpian-alternative government would be complete without a state media outlet, so there you go."
Oh god. Disinformation making a home for itself in Tallahassee. https://t.co/oHM0p5x2Bu— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (@AnnaForFlorida) June 8, 2021
"OAN is going to be central to it no matter what," Monroe says. "And DeSantis is running in the OAN primary. That's his base. It's going to give him a really powerful outlet and a really powerful megaphone to send a message to his base. I already think he's been quite good at it."
Monroe wonders whether DeSantis and his administration will grant OAN a level of access that other reporters have not had.
"The trick is not getting caught in a constantly responsive mode to disinformation," says the columnist. "I think it would be a mistake for legitimate Florida media to respond to OAN with fact-checks and counter-narratives. That kinda plays into what they want. It's going to be really challenging. I think the challenge for traditional news outlets is going to be staying true to the mission in an increasingly noisy environment."
Dan Sweeney, deputy opinions editor for the Sun Sentinel, recounts sitting in the press galleries to watch and report on the state's legislative session two months out of the year for about five years. He says sticking an OAN correspondent in the mix would be the same as having someone from the Republican Party's press shop in the gallery.
"You'll have someone whose first loyalty is not to journalism but to a particular ideology in the room, and that's problematic," Sweeney says.
He provides the example of OAN host Christina Bobb, a lawyer who has helped Trump's legal team and worked directly with Rudy Giuliani to challenge the results of the presidential election. According to the Washington Post, Bobb and OAN anchor Chanel Rion founded a fundraising group in April to seek donations for a ballot audit in Arizona. Bobb has covered the Arizona audit for OAN and solicits voluteers and funds for the review on Twitter.
That involvement in covering a story and becoming part of it runs afoul of journalistic ethics.
"But we're not talking about a journalistic outlet," Sweeney says. "We're talking about an outlet with a mission to promote a political ideology."
Sweeney adds that OAN's power is in making viewers question actual facts and painting the truth as unknowable. Given that One America News has and continues to question the results and integrity of the U.S. election, Sweeney sees the potential for Florida's 2022 gubernatorial race to parallel right-wing coverage of the presidential election. He says that if the 2022 governor's race is anywhere near as close as the 2018 race between DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, outlets like OAN will be off to the races casting doubt.
"They have the real potential here to throw flies in the ointment and claim that democracy itself is suspect," Sweeney says. "Which, if you're a minority party and you want to stay in power, casting doubt on democracy itself is the only way to do it."