On Wednesday night, the New York Times published an article that outlined the ongoing war between Jeff Zucker’s CNN and Trump. The most recent skirmish had come earlier in the day, when CNN faced intense backlash from Trump supporters after the organization published a strangely worded story that made it sound as if CNN was holding a Reddit user’s identity hostage. But the most interesting revelation in the Times piece was that the White House was considering using a pending merger as a cudgel against CNN for its perceived anti-Trump behavior:
White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card.
The merger between AT&T (a giant wireless carrier company) and Time Warner (a giant content provider) has been pending approval by the Justice Department to finally become the giant wireless content provider of their dreams. On the campaign trail, Trump took a populist stance in opposing the merger, stating, “AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” But he was much more tempered on the issue when he spoke to Axios right before the inauguration.
Of course, what Trump has promised in the past is completely worthless for predicting what he might do in the future. And his increased hostility towards CNN has been looming over the deal for months. Just last week, the New York Post reported that because of a number of highly publicized controversies, AT&T was potentially looking to “neutralize” Jeff Zucker after the deal went through. Another strategy to allay Trump could be for AT&T to throw CNN under the bus:
“The news business doesn’t seem to be central to AT&T’s content strategy,” said Craig Moffett, a co-founder of independent media research firm MoffettNathanson. “They seem much more interested in the entertainment brands. If selling CNN would make regulators happy, they’ll sell it. I can’t imagine AT&T would let CNN stand in the way of securing approval for the merger.”
The deal itself is bad news for anti-trust advocates. A group of Senate Democrats led by Al Franken recently sent a letter to the Justice Department calling on it to reject the merger if the department found that it led to “higher prices, fewer choices, and poorer quality services for Americans.” But, if the Department of Justice scuttles the deal because of Trump’s personal beef with CNN, or if the White House uses the merger to force CNN to play nice, that comes with its own set of troubling implications.