Trump wants to punish CNN by breaking up the AT&T/Time Warner deal

Peter Kafka writes: What would it look like if the President of the United States punished American businesses he didn’t like, or news organizations that reported things he didn’t like?

It would look like this: Trump’s Department of Justice is threatening to scuttle AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner unless the merged companies dump CNN and Turner, the cable unit that houses CNN, according to a source familiar with the DOJ’s review.

The Financial Times first reported the news today, as did the New York Times.

We got a hint of this this morning, when AT&T’s CFO said he wasn’t sure when the deal would close — though he still thought it would close.

We could spend time discussing why this makes no sense under conventional antitrust law, since AT&T/Time Warner is a “vertical” merger, where the two companies are in different lines of business.

But don’t ask us. Ask antitrust expert Makan Delrahim, who announced last year that the proposed deal shouldn’t be a problem.

Except now Delrahim has apparently changed his mind. Or, more precisely, Delrahim now works for Donald Trump as the head of antitrust at the DOJ.

Since then, Delrahim has been signaling that he may have problems with AT&T/Time Warner after all.

Sober industry observers — including ones that had problems with the deal — figured that Delrahim wanted to slow down approval of the deal, perhaps because he didn’t want to rubber stamp it.

And if he did have problems with it, a logical place to look would be AT&T’s ownership of HBO, which rival pay TV networks had argued would give HBO unfair footing.

Nope. Per the FT, “It’s all about CNN,” which makes sense if you are a leader of a banana republic who believes that news outlets that report stories critical of your leadership are “fake news.” [Continue reading…]

Richard W Painter, White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, tweets:

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