AT&T Chairman William Kennard: The Face Behind Effort to Crush OAN and Newsmax?

March 2nd, 2023 8:47 AM

It appears that DirecTV dubiously dropping Newsmax and One America News within months of each other may be connected to the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against the two news outlets.

AT&T, which holds the majority ownership stake in DirecTV (70 percent), is overseen by its liberal Board Chairman William Kennard, who’s been accused of directly interfering in the decision by DirecTV to drop OAN April 2022. This development happened just under a year after it was reported that Dominion Voting Systems, the voting tech company that was the subject of controversy during the 2020 election, had launched billion-dollar lawsuits against both OAN and Newsmax in 2021 for spreading what NPR called “misinformation” about “rigging the ballots.” DirecTV has since deplatformed both outlets.

Kennard is one of the three executive board members of Staple Street Capital, the middle market private equity firm that — along with the Dominion Voting Systems management team — acquired Dominion Voting Systems in 2018. Kennard’s executive role at Staple Street Capital — of which he reportedly joined in 2014 —   involved “principally focus[ing] on the communications and media sectors and other regulated industries.” Kennard also joined AT&T’s board in 2014, and was named AT&T chairman just three days after the tumultuous 2020 election.

In other words, the chairman of the company that owns the programming distributor that dropped OAN and Newsmax, is also an executive board member of the firm that owns the voting company that’s suing both outlets.

In a lawsuit that OAN filed against AT&T and DirecTV in March 2022 alleging breach of contract, owner Herring Networks asserted that “Kennard is motivated to use his role and position of influence at AT&T to induce DIRECTV not to continue its carriage of OAN, to the benefit of Kennard, Staple Street, and Dominion and to the detriment of OAN.” The lawsuit stipulated that “[w]hen DIRECTV’s [Chief Content Officer] Rob Thun informed Herring of the decision not to renew the Affiliation Agreement, Thun added that the decision was ‘political’ and was made at the board level, implying that AT&T leadership such as Kennard influenced the nonrenewal decision.”

Kennard also happens to be very connected to President Joe Biden and left-wing political circles, having served in high profile government positions during President Barack Obama’s and President Bill Clinton’s administrations. Kennard was previously the ambassador to the European Union under Obama, and served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during Clinton’s presidency.

MRC Business & Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider said in a statement that “there are lots of corporations that have gone completely woke, but the AT&T chairman stands apart.” He continued: “It seems like he’s using his positions at multiple organizations to silence conservatives and conservative media. This is a betrayal of stockholders and to the idea of our nation’s founding.”

Less than a year after OAN’s deplatforming, Newsmax reported Jan. 25 that DirecTV “cut” the outlet’s “signal, immediately shutting the network off from more than 13 million customers of the satellite service, DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse." Newsmax said it was “seeking a fee with a 75% discount to its market value, and compared to fees currently paid by DirecTV, almost all 50 channels below Newsmax in ratings get higher fees.” Even liberal Newsweek cast doubt on DirecTV’s fairness with regards to Newsmax.

After propping up DirecTV’s excuse that it didn’t give Newsmax a “carriage fee” due to supposedly low ratings, Newsweek noted Newsmax’s point that the leftist “Vice TV receives full carriage and license fees from DirecTV, despite having an audience of [only] 60,000, according to USTVDB figures.” 

Both Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and OAN asserted “political” discrimination as a reason behind their deplatforming from DirecTV. Interestingly, Federal Election Commission records suggest that Kennard donated the maximum-allowed individual contribution for the 2022 electoral cycle of $5,800 to Friends of Schumer [affiliated with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)] on Nov. 30, 2021. The FEC listed "Astra Capital Management" as Kennard's employer at the time, which he co-founded.

Just a few months after Kennard’s donation(s), Newsmax TV host Joe Pinion would challenge Schumer for his senate seat in January, 2022. Pinion would go on to lose his bid in the November 2022 midterm elections, and Newsmax would be axed from AT&T’s DirecTV the following January. MRC Business reached out to AT&T, Staple Street and Astra Capital Management 18 times collectively either through phone or email requesting comment on Kennard’s donations to a Schumer-affiliated group. No response was given as of the publication of this article.

OAN launched its breach of contract lawsuit against DirecTV in March 2022. In January 2023, San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer ruled that the suit could continue, staving off an attempt by AT&T, DirecTV and others to kill it. 

According to Times of San Diego, “Almost a year ago — Jan. 14, 2022 — Bloomberg News posted a story titled ‘DirecTV to Drop One America News in Blow to Conservative Channel.’ The story was accurate — quoting an email from DirecTV — but the Herrings [OAN owners] say the note breached a confidentiality agreement with the satellite-TV provider by disclosing when its deal expired.” 

Meyer reportedly stated in his tentative ruling: “‘DIRECTV argues that Herring has not alleged resulting damages. However, having adequately alleged a breach of the confidentiality provision, Herring would at a minimum be entitled to nominal damages.’” A “major sticking point,” reported Times of San Diego, was a “Herring demand to put AT&T board chairman William Kennard under oath in a deposition and collect documents involving his alleged effort to end the DirecTV deal with OAN. Kennard’s lawyers are balking.” Meyer will reportedly “hear arguments for and against ordering Kennard to answer questions” Apr. 21, 2023.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) both signed a letter to the AT&T Board of Directors in March 2022 expressing “grave concern” about the liberal Kennard’s connections to DirecTV’s decision to deplatform OAN: 

These facts raise serious questions about the role of political influence in DirecTV’s programming decisions, as well as whether AT&T’s Chairman has allowed personal financial considerations to influence his oversight of a company in which AT&T holds a majority share—possibly in conflict with his fiduciary obligations to AT&T shareholders.

Lee and Cruz pointed out at the time that AT&T also “controls two seats on DirecTV’s board of directors.” 

Conservatives are under attack. Contact ABC News (818) 460-7477, CBS News (212) 975-3247 and NBC News (212) 664-6192 and demand they report on Kennard’s connections to both DirecTV’s deplatforming trend and an ongoing lawsuit against OAN and Newsmax.